Originally published in Bend Business and Lifestyle Magazine – 2017
It is five o’clock in the morning. Alaska Airlines’ Bombardier turbo-prop is taxing out from the ramp at Roberts Field in Redmond. Passengers from all over Central Oregon are on their way to Portland. Next door American Eagles’ Canadair RJ 700 is being readied. In less than two hours, passengers will leave on a non-stop flight to Los Angeles.
It’s been a long time coming. From its humble beginnings in the 1920s, the Redmond Municipal Airport has become a key player in Central Oregon’s powerhouse economy. The growing community is fueling airport growth, and in return, the airport is helping the region grow.
The airport began as a small barnstorming airfield in the Roaring Twenties. When World War II broke out, the airfield was turned over to the Army Air Corp who used the facilities to train pilots. The newly minted pilots would eventually go on to serve in Europe and the Pacific.
After the war, the airfield was turned over to the city of Redmond for the price of a dollar. Back then, passengers flew in and out of Redmond on DC-3s and Convair 340 propliners. Today, the vintage prop planes have been replaced by modern commuter jets and turbo-props.
Regional residents have taken a liking to their airport, which offers 21 daily departures to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Denver. Redmond is serviced by four carriers; American Airlines, Alaska Air, Delta Air, United and United Express.
Roberts Field attracts travelers from a large geographical area, from La Pine in the south to Madras to the north, and services the cities of Bend, Redmond, Sisters, Sunriver and Prineville. The first 11 months of 2016, the airport saw 571,172 passengers pass through the terminal building, flying in and out of Redmond.
The airport sits on a 2,500 acre parcel with BLM land dotted with junipers and sage brush on three sides, and an industrial area and a golf course on the fourth.
Passenger flights in the early days originated from a wooden bench under a juniper tree. The 1940s-era bench has twice been replaced by new terminals. The need of the community is pushing the expansion. Bend is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States.
In 2000, the airport received a $12 million upgrade that included an expanded terminal building, ramp improvements, a new control tower, a new fire station, and a runway capable of taking on a Boeing 737.
In the summer of 2015, the airport was awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to attract commercial air service between Redmond and Phoenix. The grant served as a revenue guarantee and funded marketing of the new route. The new air service was inaugurated in February 2016 through a partnership with American Airlines.
Last year, air traffic in and out of Central Oregon took a three week hiatus while the main runway received a face-lift that included FAA stipulated drainage improvements. The more than $18 million project guarantees that the airport stays up-to-date for another 20-30 years.
Much like the railroads were once said to make or break the growth of a community, there is much riding on the airport. As Central Oregon casts away the remnants of the Great Recession, Roberts Field will continue to play an important role in the future of the region.