City nears completion of Willmar airport master plan
WILLMAR — The last time the Willmar Municipal Airport had an updated master plan, the airport was still in its former location in the Industrial Park. For the past year, an advisory group of city staff, Airport Commission members and airport users have been meeting to establish a refreshed plan for the next 20 years at John L. Rice Field just west of the city.
"It was time to look at the plan again, and at the next 20 years at the airport," said Melissa Underwood, aviation planner with Bolton & Menk, who has been leading the city through the plan process.
Underwood gave a presentation on the plan Monday during a work session of the Willmar City Council. The draft plan is almost complete and will soon be sent to the Airport Commission, advisory group and City Council for review. Once the review is complete, the plan will be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval.
"They've been involved in the whole process. We don't anticipate any significant comments from them," Underwood said.
The City Council holds final approval of the plan, before it becomes part of the overall comprehensive plan which lays out future development for the city of Willmar.
"It gives the city goals and plans to look forward to at the airport," Underwood said.
The advisory group has met about five times and has completed a inventory of existing conditions at the airport, conducted an airport user survey and generated a 20-year forecast of aviation activity at the airport.
For example, there are currently about 48 aircraft based at the airport. By 2036, the forecast sees that increasing to around 65 aircraft based at the Willmar Municipal Airport. Also estimated to increase is the number of takeoffs and landings per year, going from approximately 20,000 today to 27,000 through 2036.
"After gathering that data, we looked at runway lengths and what we would need to do to accommodate those users over the next 20 years," Underwood said.
The Willmar Airport has a paved, 5,500-foot runway, which makes it one of approximately 35 key airports in the state.
"Willmar is a key airport because the runway length is 5,000 feet or more," Underwood said.
If Willmar's airport usage increases as the forecast predicts, a runway expansion project might be justified in the long term. The possible plan would increase the paved runway to 6,500 feet, allowing for more commercial business.
"It is not justified to build this runway today or the next three years, but it is something to look at over the next five, 10, 15 years," Underwood said.
During that same time line, the city could also look at paving the 3,000-foot, turf crosswind runway; increasing the number of hangars available at the airport; and expanding the apron.
Any of the projects listed in the master plan would be eligible for FAA funding, which currently pays 90 percent of eligible airport projects.
"Once it is justified, they are willing to fund it," Underwood said.
This year the city has received FAA funding to complete both the master plan and the eastern taxilane drainage project. The state also provides 5 percent of funding for eligible projects, leaving only 5 percent for the city to pay.
Mayor Marv Calvin thanked Underwood, the Airport Commission and the Master Plan Advisory Group for all of their work on the plan.
"Our airport is a key piece of economic development for our community," Calvin said.