Pilots eye return to Minnesota's 'Northwest Angle'

Online survey measuring interest

October 16, 2012

Jim Hanson has a concise way of explaining why a county board and an international commission are studying the feasibility of bringing aviation back to a remote corner of Minnesota.

“If there were ever a place that needed an airport, this is it,” he said.

The need Hanson pinpoints and state tourism officials are seeking to measure concerns an area called the Northwest Angle—a chunk of Minnesota that is bordered by Canada to the west and north, and the well-known fishing and vacationing paradise of Lake of the Woods on its other flanks.

You can get to “The Angle” by automobile, but the drive takes a few hours and requires an international border crossing.

By contrast, a brief 25-mile flight in a general aviation aircraft offers a most attractive alternative—one that hundreds of pilots used to take on a regular basis until the only strip in the Northwest Angle was taken private three years ago, Hanson said in a phone interview.

That lost access to The Angle could be restored if a study shows that pilots would resume flying there. A survey to measure aviators’ interest, available online until Oct. 28, is being conducted by the Lake of the Woods County Board and the Baudette International Airport Commission.

Hanson, a pilot and manager of Albert Lea Municipal Airport, is actively promoting the effort to reopen access to the Northwest Angle, and he urges any pilot who might consider traveling to the remote haven to participate in the survey. Their input could help provide a big boost to Minnesota’s recreational industry, he said.

Two alternatives are under active consideration, said John McKenna, president of the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF). One is to study the possibility of acquiring the private airport, and a second possible plan is construction of another landing strip about two miles away. That alternative would solve some problems posed by the existing strip’s limitations, he said; Minnesota pilot and RAF member Kirk Hiner is also spearheading the effort.

Renewed pilot interest was also spurred by Minnesota’s recent passage of a recreational-use statute, the RAF noted in an article about its support for the Northwest Angle airport study. Recreational-use laws can ease the liability concerns of private landowners who allow aircraft to land on their property.

Either airport selected for development would be run by Lake of the Woods County with the Minnesota Department of Transportation funding “the major portion of the airport—including this study,” says a welcome to the survey on the Lake of the Woods home page.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.