Minnesota Council of Airports wants funding restored

WILLMAR -- The Legislature should restore the money it took from the aviation trust fund to help pay for a multibillion deficit in 2003, says the leader of a group representing Minnesota airports.

WILLMAR -- The Legislature should restore the money it took from the aviation trust fund to help pay for a multibillion deficit in 2003, says the leader of a group representing Minnesota airports.

"The biggest issue is funding,'' said Glenn Burke, chairman of the Minnesota Council of Airports and manager of the South St. Paul Airport.

He said lawmakers took $15 million from the trust fund to help plug the 2003 budget deficit. The trust fund receives revenue from aircraft fuel taxes, airline flight property taxes and aircraft registration.

"Now we've had significant bankruptcies, Northwest Airlines and Mesaba Airlines and others, and the revenues into our fund are not coming in,'' said Burke.

The revenue supports the Office of Aeronautics in the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and pays for airport lighting, pavement rehabilitation, equipment and other projects, he said.


"The airlines are not flying as much, so they're not burning as much fuel, and the bankrupt airlines have chosen not to pay their bills, which they are legally allowed to do. So the fund is going to be down about $4.8 million on a $20 million budget,'' said Burke.

"We're missing about 25 percent of our revenue and we're asking the state to repay the $15 million that they took from us a couple of years ago.

The governor included it in his budget; however, the Legislature didn't,'' said Burke.

"We're looking at some significant problems and some reductions in construction that will be spread throughout the state. They have some money in the bank from previous years, but we're still going to see cutbacks in the neighborhood of $3 million this current biennium,'' he said.

Burke said the Office of Aeronautics realizes that airports like those in Willmar and South St. Paul are regional facilities that aren't used exclusively by the community in which they are located.

Burke said some pilots who have aircraft at South St. Paul use Willmar Air Service because they like the service here better than they do in the Twin Cities.

"The state recognizes that people are going to travel around in their planes and they get to use the facilities, but it shouldn't be the sole burden of that sole community to fund that airport,'' he said.

Burke is among 240 representatives of small-to-large public and private airports attending the Minnesota Council of Airport's 2006 annual symposium at the Willmar Conference Center. The council represents 132 airports.


Burke said members will hear about the latest trends and political happenings, attend educational meetings, talk with MnDOT and Federal Aviation Administration officials, and visit with equipment and supply vendors during the three-day conference, which ends Friday.

Wednesday's agenda included a tour of the terminal building and fixed-base operator building at Willmar's new $21 million airport located west of the city. Construction at the 780-acre site began in the fall of 2003. The airport will open this year.

Four cities in Minnesota have built airports since 1970: Mankato, St. James, Litchfield and now Willmar, said Joel Swanson, construction supervisor for HNTB Corporation of Minneapolis.

(Paynesville opened a new airport in 2004. According to Tribune archives, the project received state funding but was not eligible for federal funding at the time.)

The main runway is 5,500 feet long by 100 feet wide. Space is provided for a 1,000-foot runway extension. The airport also has a 3,000-foot cross-wind grassed runway. Some hangars will be moved from the old airport to the new airport, and some hangars will be constructed.

The color selection of the terminal is light beige and bronze trim, with block and steel construction. The lobby's two-story windows provide a view of the runway and apron. The terminal also has space for a pilots' lounge and quiet lounge, flight planning area, concession area, conference room and manager's office.

Swanson said work remains on lights, signs, fuel system, security gates and fence, and seeding and sodding.

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