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The Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport received nearly $4.3 million in federal grants Tuesday. The funds will be used for infrastructure upkeep on two of its main taxiways and to upgrade its guidance system, storm drains and more.

Airport director John Barsalou said landing large-scale competitive grants takes lots of staff time and is crucial to airport operations. This specific project was approved more than three years before funding was secured.

“Airports serving rural communities are critical in order to keep local economies running,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. “This multi-million dollar federal investment ... provides essential help for people and small businesses in southern Oregon.”

Klamath Falls-based Rocky Mountain Construction won the bid for the project. Barsalou said it is unknown if that will begin later this summer or next spring, as the paving work is weather dependent. Barsalou said construction will impact airport operations, though detours will be set up to keep impacts to a minimum.

Surprisingly, business has been brisk at the airport despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Airports that have passenger service, obviously it has severely impacted their operations,” said Barsalou.

But the Crater Lake-Klamath airport does not have passenger service. Most of its traffic is from cargo carriers such as FedEx and UPS, which have seen business increase as consumers across the world order more products online, as well as the Air National Guard at Kingsley Field.

Barsalou said general aviation activity was down significantly in April and May, but those numbers bounced back toward normal by June and July.

The airport costs $1.7 million to operate each year and brings in just $500,000 in revenue. The city of Klamath Falls spends about $1.2 million per year to balance the airport budget.

Still, Barsalou said the airport remains an important player in the local economy, not least by hosting the Air National Guard. The Guard is the third largest employer in the county.

About $3.87 million of the grant came from discretionary funding in the U.S. Department of Transportation Airport Improvement Grant Program, $150,000 was entitled funding from the same program and an additional $268,500 was directed from the CARES Act.