Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Salem Airport is a Circus - Really!

Though you might think the hullaballoo around the airport is something of a circus, what with the control tower, runway extension, and Delta-Seaport fiasco, you might be surprised to learn the relation between the airport and carnival rides is very tight indeed.

Lee Eyerly, the man behind Salem's airport was also a manufacturer of carnival rides.
It all started back in the 1930s when Lee U. Eyerly, an oldtime flier, became aware of the amusement possibilities of a captive plane he had designed for training flying students. He converted this device into a ride and he and his two sons, Harry and Jack, have been developing exciting apparatus ever since.
The story started a few years earlier. In November 1927, the Oregonian carried an announcement about the Salem airport. Pacific Airways filed articles of incorporation, with a capital stock of $25,000, and started construction.

By 1930, he'd persuaded the City to float a $50,000 bond and several members of the Chamber of Commerce to sit on the Airport Commission. His flying school had 45 students and reputedly his repair shop did most of the mechanical and maintenance work on the planes.

The next year, he hired a hostess.

Ann Bohrer had been the Secretary of the Eyerly Aircraft Corporation and Mayor Gregory named her the
official hostess for the Salem Municipal Airport... Her duties will include checking all airplanes arriving at and departing from the field, assisting visiting pilots and passengers and serving as an official greeter for the city. She will wear a special uniform.
As with the early Lord & Schryver work, all this took place during the Great Depression!

It seems likely that Eyerly and others were successful in leveraging public investment for private profit and perks, benefits that did not distribute very widely across those who lived in Salem.

This may continue today. Crony capitalism is too strong a word, but the benefits of the airport seem spread rather thinly. The airport then and now was more about boosterism and a municipal "Napoleon Complex" than a critical cog in the local economy.

In a comment on the Statesman article, Claudia Howells, a retired ODOT administrator, observed:
Here is an example of yet another government subsidy that benefits a very few. Salem Airport is primarily a "general aviation" facility, meaning that most of the users are small private planes. Perhaps the city should consider raising landing fees if it wants to pay for staffing the tower. Given the current budget situations and cuts that have been made already in essential city services, I would hope the Council would think twice before back filling the federal money from the city's general fund.
The Carnival ride company went bankrupt in 1990 after a death in Florida on a ride, but in 2008 an Eyerly descendent still worked for Funtastic Rides.

More on the history of the airport here.

Historic articles from the
March 4th, 1948
November 29, 1927
August 17, 1930
December 27, 1931

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