Twin Cities, MN — The Metropolitan Airports Commission’s (MAC) plans for the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC) to be held here in September is a study of an airport reliever system and its maturing airports. St. Paul Downtown Holman Field and Flying Cloud Airport are in the process of upgrades for their corporate traffic. Anoka County-Blaine Airport is a microcosm of general aviation itself, with a new investment by Key Air focused on increasing business aviation activity. At Minneapolis-St. Paul International, the emphasis is on showing RNC traffic a high degree of customer service.
The third largest aviation system in the U.S., the MAC includes MSP and six reliever airports. It’s a governmental agency of the State of Minnesota, with commissioners appointed by the governor as well as designees of the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Gary Schmidt, director of reliever airports for MAC, says the system works especially well because of the amount of coordination that can be exercised over aviation in the area. “We can efficiently control the system, as well as develop it,” Schmidt says.
As far as the RNC is concerned, Schmidt says the impacts will be positive. “From our perspective, it is a pretty good thing,” he says. “We’ve had the Super Bowl here in the past; we’ve had other events here; so as far as MSP goes where a lot of the delegates will come through, they’ve gone through some of these types of events and I think they’re going to do a very good job.”
He says a greater issue will be the efficient handling of corporate traffic. “I don’t want someone to land at one of the airports and sit out there for two and a half hours waiting for a ride. That’s a bad experience, and that’s the kind of thing we want to avoid at all costs.”
St. Paul Downtown will be the closest airport — about a mile and a half — from the Excel Center where the RNC will take place. Schmidt says the airport will be the trump card to drawing corporate traffic away from MSP — a wild card is how temporary flight restrictions will impact the MAC system when President Bush arrives at the convention, which is expected but not scheduled. “That impacts how much traffic St. Paul Downtown can take, or if we’ll have to encourage them to use some of the other airports,” Schmidt says.
St. Paul Downtown caters to primarily corporate traffic, but has military operations in the form of the Minnesota Army Guard and two flight schools. Situated on the bank of the Mississippi River, the 550-acre airport has had three floods in the past 20 years. [See sidebar below.]
The airport leases out land, allowing tenants to build their own facilities. As a result, the airport doesn’t currently own any hangars.
“We’re limited as far as any additional building areas,” comments Greg Fries, airport manager for St. Paul Downtown. “We have nowhere else to build. This is the size we’re going to be. We have an industrial park on one side and the river on the other side. There is some [acreage] still available for corporate hangars and then we’re pretty much built out as far as corporate hangars go.”
The Anoka County Airport has benefitted from outside investment more than once. MAC’s Schmidt says airport improvement projects were on the books for years before Anoka County decided to take action.
“The county was a little bit frustrated because they saw this is an opportunity for us to help promote economic development in our area,” says Schmidt. “They finally said, enough of that, we’re going to spend some of our money to help with the improvements on the airport. The county actually sold bonds and paid for the runway extension and a new building area on the northwest corner. The instrument landing system was included.”
Schmidt says the county ended up spending $13 million on improvements, which included a 1,000-foot runway extension.
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