AOPA to fight Crystal Airport closure plan

November 11, 2004

AOPA to fight Crystal Airport closure plan

They're at it again. Some Minnesota politicians want to close and sell Crystal Airport (MIC), a general aviation reliever airport for Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP). But AOPA is at full charge to stop it.

"Crystal Airport handles some 20 percent of the regional GA activity, with four runways, 188,000 annual operations, and 300 based aircraft," said Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airports. "Close the airport and all that traffic would be forced elsewhere, increasing delays at the other Twin Cities airports, principally MSP.

"But AOPA is going to fight to make sure this developer-backed plan goes nowhere."

AOPA has asked to testify against the proposed Crystal Airport sale at a state Senate aeronautics subcommittee hearing Friday, November 19.

In order to sell the airport, the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC), which owns MIC, MSP, and five other reliever airports in the Twin Cities area, would have to get a change in state law.

The Northwest Corridor Partnership. which includes both public officials and private companies such as Target Corp. and Wells Fargo Bank, wants the 430 acres of airport land to build an industrial, retail, and housing complex in conjunction with a bus rapid transit service along County Road 81.

Airport sale proponents claim that the proceeds could be used to fund improvement projects at other MAC-owned airports. Northwest Airlines has been pressing the MAC to divert funds from the reliever airports toward MSP, the airline's home base. Among other things, the airline wants the MAC to use public funds for the construction of a new terminal for Northwest's exclusive use.

The MAC also is considering fee increases for general aviation users at the six reliever airports. That's something that AOPA has been vigorously lobbying against. AOPA President Phil Boyer appeared before the MAC in April and met with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The FAA is not likely to look favorably on the closure plan.

"The MAC has accepted federal AIP [airport improvement program] funds for the airport, and with those funds comes a contractual obligation to maintain and operate the airport for all users," said Dunn. "Federal law is very clear; the FAA can only release an airport sponsor from those obligations when there would be a net benefit to civil aviation. That's a very high hurdle to clear."

Updated December 22, 2004