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Airport Archives: Airport Has Come A Long Way

Airport has come a long way
By MIKE BIALKA
Staff Writer, Brainerd Daily Dispatch

About 35 years ago Brainerd-Crow Wing County Municipal Airport (Walter Wieland Field) consisted of a 20 by 18-foot terminal building and three short runways.

Visitors to the Sept. 17 grand opening ceremonies at the recently expanded airport may be in awe of the progress.

The ceremonies are the culmination of a $9 million expansion project ($7.5 million has actually been spent to date). Participation in the project from a local level was approved by voters at a special referendum in September 1979. The new facilities became operational in 1982.

The State of Minnesota paid approximately 80 percent of the total cost of expansion and the federal government about 10 percent. (Funds received from the state and federal governments are derived from taxes on the aviation industry, not personal income tax.) The estimated local share was approximately $90,000.

Currently the airport features a new $3.2 million terminal, consisting of about 10,000 square feet, in addition to the recently remodeled ‘old’ General Aviation Terminal (built in 1948 and expanded in 1963).

The main runway is 6,500 feet long and 150 feet wide and another runway 4,080 feet by 100 feet. The main runway is capable of accommodating 727s or DC-9s.

Two airlines—Mesaba and Republic—service the airport daily. Military planes also utilize the facility extensively.

Republic conducts its operation in the new building with areas for check-in, baggage claim, and waiting. Rent-a-car companies also lease space to conduct their business in the new terminal.

The old terminal features a meeting room for the airport commission, a pilot’s lounge, a 24-hour direct telephone line to the Alexandria Flight Service Station, a teletype machine which provides the weather forecast and current conditions throughout the U.S., a small restaurant, space rented by the Federal Aviation Administration and Airmotive Enterprises which provides aircraft charter, rental, leasing, pilot testing and air ambulance service..

More than 50 private planes are permanently based at the airport. There are three T-hangers, each of which houses 10 planes, and the remaining aircraft are anchored outside.

Also located on the grounds is a DNR tanker base for fighting forest fires and offices of the Civil Air Patrol for search and recue missions.

A single-seat fight plane is mounted on a pedestal, on which it revolves, near the entrance road to the airport. John Riedl Sr., airport manager, has done extensive research and believes it’s the only revolving mounted plane in the nation.

“The chairman of the board of Republic, Hal Carr, can’t believe what we did here,” says Riedl.

Republic’s passenger enplanement (passengers who boarded here and went as far as Minneapolis) was more than 15,000 in 1982, Republic’s greatest-ever year here. Of that total, 82 percent continued on Republic to some other destination.

In 1982, total freight departing Brainerd weighed about 200 tons. The bulk of the freight comes from Brainerd and area cities including Little Falls, Wadena, Crosby-Ironton and Aitkin.

“That’s quite a lot of freight for a community of our size to produce,” Riedl said. “It’s cheaper to send by air freight, in some cases, than by train.”

Large airlines, such as Republic, in the past few years have discontinued service to some small communities. But Riedl doesn’t foresee that happening here.

“My personal thought is that they need the Bemidjis, Brainerds and Hibbings to supply their further-on needs (connecting flights),” he said.

Republic pays rent in the new building by the square foot, pays for its electricity and one-fifth of the total heating cost. It also does its own cleaning.

“We have a lucrative contract with Republic Airlines,” Riedl remarked.

Future plans call for relocation of the DNR tanker base along Highway 210, a heliport (landing and takeoff place for helicopters), another 10-unit T-hanger which is expected to be completed by the end of October and possibly a motel-restaurant-truck stop-type business.

The area’s resort industry has greatly benefitted from the expanded facility, Riedl says.

“All resorts are not only dependent (on the airport) but terribly thankful that we have this facility,” he said. “All of them have van service to their resorts.”

Riedl foresees the day in the near future when Republic will fly DC-9s between Brainerd and Minneapolis instead of the current Convair propeller jets.

“Republic’s Convairs are all for sale,” he said. “When they’re sold the DC-9s will come in.”

 
 
 

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Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport
16384 Airport Rd, Suite 5 · Brainerd, MN 56401-5852 · 218-825-2166