MAC Targets the Electioneers

Upgrades, customer service initiatives are underway as system readies for Republicans.

“In return, we leased them the northwest building area, which they paid for. And they then would be able to sublease that back to an entity and recover some of the money they had invested in the airport. It actually just sort of transferred the privilege of leasing it to the county because they had paid for all the preparation.”

Airport manager Joe Harris says the situation was unique within the MAC system.

“The MAC has never had that type of public partnership with any other county or municipality in which our airports actually sit, for them to actually invest in the airport because of the inherent value of it,” Harris says. “They see that it’s a true catalyst. There’s a lot of development in Anoka County and they see the airport as helping attract some of those people looking to maybe relocate to Minnesota or relocate from some other place in the Cities.”

With the improvements made to the 1,900-acre airport, what was left lacking was a fixed base operation that catered to corporate traffic. Then late last year, Connecticut-based Key Air entered into an agreement to build an FBO on the north side of the airport to fulfill that need.

Harris is optimistic about the development. “I think it will be a good complement to services to what’s being offered here with the services that they plan on providing,” he says.

The airport has two incumbent FBOs on the field. One, Crossroads Aviation, went into litigation with MAC for a dispute over the FBO’s footprint, which has since been resolved. The other, Cirrus Flight Operations, has been at the airport for several years.

Key Air is working quickly to get the FBO up and running in time to cater to Republican National Convention traffic. “I’ve been part of some building projects and processes before, but to see the level of subcontractors and contractors out here working to this extent, is really amazing,” Harris says.

He notes that the FBO is initially building a terminal hangar facility, with plans for expansion later.

Touring the airport, there is a definite sense of community, thanks in part to the variation in types of aviation based there. “You’ve got antique aircraft; you’ve got small aircraft; and then you’ve got it mixed in with the jets,” Harris says. “This airport isn’t one or another. It’s all of this, which is literally all of general aviation.”

The contract air traffic control tower also helps. All controllers working at Anoka are former employees of larger commercial airports.

“To me, the front door is them, providing that kind of service,” Harris says. “They’ll make small talk as guys who have been there and done it. I think it’s great to have. They themselves attract a lot of people into the airport just because of their friendliness.”

And while Anoka is adding FBOs, Flying Cloud Airport southwest of the Twin Cities already has plenty.

“It has six FBOs on the field right now,” Harris says. “Three of them really cater to the corporate users and they all have another little niche business in addition to providing fuel services out there. They all seem to make a go of it.”

The airport has a strong complement of corporate traffic, and may see an influx of RNC traffic by virtue of it being familiar. Eden Prairie, where Flying Cloud is located, “is where your CEOs and executives live,” Harris says. “And every time the Republicans come in to do a fundraiser or whatnot, it’s usually in one of these nearby suburbs. I think Flying Cloud, because of that, could see some traffic.”

“It’s where the money is.”

Next year, Harris says, Flying Cloud’s 3900-foot runway is scheduled to receive an extension to 5000 feet.

While the reliever airports are working on airport improvements, Minneapolis-St. Paul International is working on getting the right level of customer service ready for RNC travelers.

“We really want the airport to be at top shape,” says MSP director Steve Wareham. “We’re going to take a couple of extra steps with the RNC.”

To prepare, Wareham says, he met with John Duval, formerly of Massport, who’d been through the process when the Democratic National Convention came to Boston in 2004.

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