HOOD RIVER — Plans for a new hangar and business building at the Ken Jernstedt Airfield two miles south of Hood River got the green light at the Port of Hood River’s Board of Commissioner’s meeting March 2. The commissioners held a special airport work session March 16 to discuss additional plans for the airport, including addressing noise complaints.

Commissioners approved paying architect Aron Faegre up to $95,000 to design the structure and oversee construction. As proposed, the $3 million building could be up to 27,000 square feet, including four bays and business space, according to Michael McElwee, port executive director. If the commission moves forward on construction, the hangar will be owned and managed by the port. The commission also discussed other sites at the airfield to lease land for the construction of hangars by private parties.

The port has seen $11 million in improvements to the airport in the last eight years, including, in 2013, moving the runway further from Tucker Road, and adding a grass landing taxiway alongside the tarmac. The funds for planning and some improvements come from the Federal Aviation Administration, with additional funds coming from Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Aviation. The port is working on the details of a master plan that includes nearly $5 million in projects over the next five years, including the new commercial hangar. The Port of Hood River has owned it since 1976.

Approximately 15,000 flights come through the airport annually. In addition, the airport is home to 100 aircraft stored in three-dozen T-hangar spaces, or tied down on the tarmac. TacAero offers self-serve fuel, flight school, private lessons, sight-seeing flights, aircraft rentals and mechanic services at the airport. The land has been an airstrip since 1946 and a hard surface airport since 1959.

Port staff and commission are currently working on an airport business plan. Hangar and land leases — almost $200,000 annually — help pay for port staff, utilities, maintenance and other expenses.

Beautiful nuisance

The growing popularity and improvements at the airport are not without challenges, especially as the airport is in a rural residential area. Noise complaints came to a head in 2016, spurring a year-long public outreach process followed by a “Fly Friendly” program. The voluntary program aimed to reduce noise by alerting pilots to fly in a respectful manner around sensitive communities.

In 2020, at another community meeting, 164 residents made it clear that noise was still a significant issue.

In October last year, the Airfield Noise Workgroup identified several contributors to noise, including loud planes, planes flying low over residences, the amount, duration and pattern of plane traffic, orbiting (planes following other planes), and flights outside of normal business hours. Port commissioners asked the group to find solutions that would reduce the impact to residents.

The group suggested several actions that could be put in place, and some the required further investigation. Establishing voluntary best management practices for all operators, the fixed base operator (TacAero), lessees and concessionaires, improving the noise complaint procedure, and considering noise implications during expansion planning were among top recommendations. Other recommendations that required more investigation included tracking specific flight operations, capturing data on low-flying planes, implementing a landing fee, and purchasing a quieter prop for the Hood River Soaring Club tow plane.

The commission approved referring voluntary best management practices to airport users and said they would consider the Noise Workgroup’s recommendations as they make plans for the future.

McElwee said the Commissioners appreciated the lengthy and thoughtful efforts by a group of very dedicated people in the Noise Committee.