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
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
Two airlines—Mesaba and Republic—service the
airport daily. Military planes also utilize the
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
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
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
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
“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
“Republic’s Convairs are all for sale,” he said.
“When they’re sold the DC-9s will come in.”