AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn
speaks at Minn. reliever airport meeting.
General aviation reliever airports enhance capacity and capability at major air carrier airports, and funds spent at the relievers should be viewed as additional support for the air carrier airports. That's the message AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn and Regional Representative Bob Dickens took to Minneapolis and the state capital of St. Paul during a series of meetings last week.
The Metropolitan Airport Commission, which runs Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and six reliever airports, is under pressure from Northwest Airlines to stop investing $2 million a year in fees collected at MSP in the relievers. Northwest is the primary tenant at MSP and pays the bulk of those fees.
"The trip was extremely productive," said Dunn. "We were able to begin educating MAC commissioners and state legislators about what a tremendous benefit the six GA relievers MAC operates are to MSP."
The 15 commissioners, only one of whom has any aviation background, are under pressure from Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) to pay more attention to the needs of Northwest Airlines, one of the state's largest employers. Northwest, like most airlines, is struggling financially and wants MAC to use fees collected at MSP to help the airline reduce its costs there.
Dunn and Dickens met with several commissioners over the course of the week, and explained to each that MAC's seven airports need to be viewed as a single system—not MSP versus all the others. "We explained that the GA airports take pressure off operations at MSP, allowing Northwest and other airlines to maintain smoother operations there, and ultimately benefiting all air travelers, airline passengers, and GA operators alike," Dunn said.
While in the Twin Cities, Dunn and Dickens hosted a meeting for GA pilots. Some 300 people turned out and were joined by one of the MAC commissioners, MAC staff, and state legislators, including state Rep. Michael Beard (R-Dist. 35A). Beard is chair of the state's House Transportation aviation subcommittee, an AOPA member, and vocal advocate for general aviation.
Dunn set the tone for the evening by urging pilots to deal with facts, not the potentially heated emotions that surround the issue. He stressed the importance of AOPA's Airport Support Network volunteers to keep AOPA up to date on issues at MAC's seven airports and urged pilots to attend airport meetings to make sure MAC knows and understands GA concerns.
"We know that Northwest Airlines carries a lot of political clout," said Dunn. "But our 400,000 members give AOPA a pretty big stick of our own, and we're prepared to use it to defend GA interests if this situation should escalate into an all-out fight. But so far, everyone we've spoken to seems willing to take general aviation's concerns into consideration."