AOPA VP of Regional Affairs Roger Cohen
with MAC Exec. Dir. Jeffrey Hamiel
Feb. 19, 2004 - AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Roger Cohen fired another salvo in the continuing debate over the costs and future of six reliever airports in and around Minneapolis/St. Paul. At issue is a demand by Northwest Airlines, the largest tenant at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP), that the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) stop subsidizing six reliever airports the MAC also operates with funds from MSP.
"While our AOPA members and the general aviation community in the Twin Cities are passionate and well organized, I know first-hand the kind of political hardball played by Northwest Airlines," said Cohen. "They will push every lever to reduce their costs and throw it on the backs of general aviation, yet they fail to recognize the benefits that the longstanding integrated system of reliever airports provides."
He urged the MAC commissioners to use "great caution" when considering changes to a reliever airport system "that is a model for communities nationwide."
Cohen's testimony before the full MAC board and a packed hearing room followed last year's Pilot Town Meeting in Minnesota at which AOPA President Phil Boyer heard area pilots recount a growing list of potentially troubling issues at the MAC reliever airports, including fee increases to GA tenants and even the potential privatization or sale of some - or all - of the six reliever fields.
Boyer is scheduled to make a presentation to the MAC commissioners later this spring as they review reliever airport policies.
Northwest filed suit against the MAC in December 2002, claiming that reliever airports should operate without subsidy and that general aviation users should also assume all depreciation and interest costs for its airports. While both the trial and appeals courts rejected Northwest's arguments largely on procedural grounds, the MAC is conducting a detailed review of its general aviation airport funding policies. MAC is expected to propose a new rate structure at the end of the public hearings, now expected to extend until summer.
To help advance AOPA member interests, Cohen also met with AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers Mitch Anderson (Flying Cloud), Arlo Enerson (Anoka), Paul Dotty (St. Paul), and Karen Workman (Airlake), as well as MAC chair Vicky Grunseth, Executive Director Jeff Hamiel, GA airports head Gary Schmidt, Minnesota Aviation Director Ray Rought, AOPA member and aviation committee leader state Rep. Mike Beard, and dozens of local pilots, FBOs, and other general aviation supporters.
"AOPA is committed to defending the interests of our 8,000 Minnesota members," said Cohen. "And Phil Boyer's direct involvement underscores that commitment to them and to the protection and preservation of the Twin Cities' integrated airport system."