Owatonna Repositions

Oct. 8, 2001

Owatonna Repositions

Southern Minnesota airport has a new airfield, FBO, and focus

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

October 2001

David Beaver, manager, Owatonna Regional Airport

OWATONNA, MN — In 1999, the Owatonna Glenn J. Degner Regional Airport completed its new general aviation terminal, capping six years of reconstruction that included a 5,500- x 50-ft. concrete runway and a new T-hangar site, at a total cost of some $14 million. It is, in essence, a totally new corporate facility, one now being positioned as a vital economic development tool for the region 45 minutes south of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metroplex.

According to manager David Beaver, 32, the rebuilding of the airport came about because of the support of the Federal

Aviation Administration, the state, and the community, at a time when funding was much more difficult to obtain than it has been since the passage of AIR-21.

Construction Awards

• Best general aviation concrete paving project, American Concrete Pavement Association
• Airport Lighting Award of Excellence
• FAA Governors Award
• Project of the Year, MN Council of Airports

"It’s rare when a municipality of only 22,000 people realizes the economic asset they have in an airport," comments Beaver. "Eleven corporations in town utilize corporate aviation here and have their own flight departments; not all of them are based here, but they fly in and out of here frequently.
"The convenience of business aviation helped to justify the project, along with the attitude that the community has toward the airport."

The Heritage Halls museum along I-35 north of Owatonna Regional has become a Southern Minnesota landmark. The addition of outfitter Cabela’s just north of the airfield has brought with it 30-50 transients each week.
The City of Owatonna, named for an Indian princess, acquired the airport in the mid-1950s from Glenn J. Degner, who built the airfield in 1946. Like many general aviation airports, it was managed by the fixed base operator while falling under the purview of the public works department. In the late 1980s, a group of local airport supporters, including local famed aviator R.W. "Buzz" Kaplan, began coordinating a serious effort to consider the long-term future of the facility, according to Beaver. That led to a series of public meetings which resulted in the hiring of a consulting firm to begin the necessary environmental studies. "The community wanted us to build something that would last," says Beaver of the concrete pavement construction, which he surmises was also part of a state experiment. In 1996, recognizing the need for a full-time airport manager to oversee the project as well as related grant processes, the city hired Beaver, a 1992 graduate of the University of North Dakota and an interim airport manager at LaCrosse, WI. During the next six years, it would totally rebuild its airport, including land acquisition, sewer and water, fuel farm, parking lot, runway, and terminal. Plans call for a crosswind runway, already approved by the local government, and for which the engineering design phase and land acquisition have been completed, says Beaver. "We’ve just completed the major development," he explains, "now we’re in a slowdown phase and I want to keep the momentum up while not eating up a lot of local dollars. We’re trying to keep our focus on the goal of the crosswind and commercial development to the west." Commercial development is already on its way toward the airport north of the city. The Mayo Clinic, which is located in nearby Rochester, is constructing a satellite facility just south of the airfield, and the outfitter Cabela’s opened a major sales outlet within a mile to the north, operating a shuttle service to the airport. In fact, says Beaver, Cabela’s attracts some 30-50 general aviation aircraft each week and is touted as the second largest tourist attraction in the state, after the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Beaver relates that while corporates are a major focus, light aircraft and other general aviation is welcome, as evidenced by tenant Minnesota Skydivers Club, Inc. The other longtime tenant is Born Again Restorations, owned by Kaplan, who is on the board of the Experimental Aircraft Association and is well-known for expeditions such as the Minnesota-to-Antarctica Friendship Flight ’99. Kaplan’s firm also reconstructed in 1998 a Sikorski S-38 amphibian aircraft for Sam Johnson, chairman of S.C. Johnson, who recreated his father’s 1935 flight to Brazil. The newest tenant is the FBO, Rare Aircraft, Ltd., which has signed on as the service provider to replace the city, which had terminated its leasehold with the previous operator in June. According to Beaver, the city is looking to the new FBO to be a key in attracting more transients and base tenants.
Roy Redman, president, Rare Aircraft, Ltd. A Concern for Freedom

Roy Redman says he is deeply concerned about the fallout on general aviation after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Redman, president of Rare Aircraft, Ltd., the new FBO at Owatonna Regional, says that the total shutdown of aviation by FAA in the days following "has set the tone for more control than we had — on VFR flying, for instance.
"The great measure of our flying is in VFR with sport training," he explains. "If they are viewing that type of flying as a threat, that they want it removed from the airspace, it sets a new level of concern. Government being what it is, once full control is applied, the pullback could be more limiting. The focus is on the wrong place."

Rare Aircraft, Ltd., a Waco specialty company, was in business for ten years at nearby Faribault Municipal Airport before moving to Owatonna.

Finding the Right FBO
In June, the city terminated a contract with the FBO, Eagles Wings Aviation, which had also managed the airport, explains Beaver. It then began the process of finding a new operator, and hired Rare Aircraft, Ltd., to provide FBO services in the interim. According to Beaver, three finalists were considered for the FBO contract, including Rare Aircraft, owned by Roy Redman, president.
Rare Aircraft’s performance during the interim combined with the fact that it was Redman’s only business were key in the selection, says Beaver. "With other FBOs," he explains, "it’s been our experience that they always have a fallback. Their business allows them to operate this as a sideline, or from another location. This is Roy’s corporate headquarters; he’s moving his entire operation here, is here everyday, managing the facility. We feel that’s the type of commitment we want. It raises our comfort level.
"The intent of the people who put these buildings up was to provide service and we wanted the best service in the area. We knew that they would bring 13 or so employees to our community and we also knew that they did exceptional work. From June until now, they’ve proven that they can offer good service at a reasonable price. They’re also a good fit with Born Again Restorations."
Rare Aircraft had operated for ten years at the Faribault Airport, specializing in Waco restoration and training, among other services. According to Redman, the company naturally branched out from Wacos to Citabrias and Decathalons, often dealing with the same owners who had multiple aircraft. "As our work multiplied, they started coming back for annual inspections and repairs, or upgrades. Now we found ourselves with an expanding maintenance department," he explains. The company also serves as an American Champion distributor.
Prior to providing the interim FBO services, Redman had begun discussions with Beaver for available facility space as the company grew, which he says proved important when he began seriously looking at a wider reaching agreement.
Terms of the deal call for a five-year lease in the new facilities, charging only a three-cent/gallon fuel flowage fee for rent, sliding up to five cents. In addition, Rare Aircraft will have utility charges waived for the first year and there are no facility or ground rents. "We wanted to give the successful bidder a jump start," explains Beaver. "We want someone to be successful here."
Comments Redman, "One of the things that I stressed was that we are in this for the long haul; we’re a second generation business (two sons).
"The main reason we moved here was the vision and the positive attitude of the airport, the manager, the commission, and the city. It shows everywhere. The nice facilities, the airfield, the runway are secondary, but are a result of that attitude. We were quite pleased with the facilities and the conditions offered, but that’s the easy part — formulating the agreement. The tough part is finding the right attitude and vision. What’s it matter if you get the building for free along with a negative attitude? When you come to them with an idea, they’re happy to look at it, glad you brought it to them."