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Sounding a populist tone in support of passengers, Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday called for greater competition among airlines at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to curb ticket costs and provide better services.
"The airport belongs to the people," Dayton told more than 400 business people and government officials at a presentation in Bloomington by the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
Referring to Delta Air Lines' overwhelming presence at the airport, Dayton said there is a "need to bring in other options and alternatives" and establish "more of a competitive balance" in flights and pricing.
"It's important to me that the commission view its customers as first and foremost the people," he said.
Dayton, a DFLer, made his remarks as he prepares to put his stamp on the commission with appointments replacing some who served under his GOP predecessor, Tim Pawlenty.
In an interview after the gathering, Dayton didn't offer specific strategies for fostering competition. But he noted that Delta, headquartered in Atlanta, took over Twin Cities-based Northwest Airlines. He said he looks forward to talking with Delta CEO Richard Anderson and obtaining assurances that it will maintain or increase employment at Minneapolis-St. Paul.
"It certainly is a concern that we no longer have the company headquartered here, that we're one of a larger number of hubs," Dayton said. "So we need the offsetting advantage of having greater competition."
Delta Twin Cities spokeswoman Kristin Baur said, "Delta welcomes competition in any market it serves, yet no other airline brings the level of international, domestic and regional access to Minneapolis-St. Paul." She noted that Delta employs over 12,000 people in the Twin Cities area.
In response to similar concerns about Delta's long-range plans, MAC executive director Jeffrey Hamiel told the crowd that Anderson has assured the airport of "a great future with Delta."
Hamiel also said that nearly all large domestic carriers serve the Twin Cities and that the airport is trying to lure British Airways and Lufthansa to fly there.
He said the costs for an airline to process a passenger at Minneapolis-St. Paul are among the lowest in the nation.
The airport's passenger traffic, which is sensitive to economic downturns, declined steadily from 2005 to 2009, then rose slightly last year.
The airport is counting on passenger traffic growing by 70 percent by 2030 to justify a planned massive expansion.
The MAC provided more details of the expansion, unveiled in 2009. It's expected to cost $2 billion to $2.4 billion over two decades and be financed with concessions, ticket and parking fees, federal grants, airline charges and bonds paid by airport revenues.
Hamiel said there eventually would be 155 gates, up from 127 today, and a doubling of parking. No additional runways will be needed.
Among those on hand were St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Rybak expressed concern about the impact of airport expansion on neighborhoods that have complained about noise.
He asked Hamiel about the potential for "a massive new intrusion of traffic over the same neighborhoods that have the impact they have now."
While the number of passengers would increase dramatically, Hamiel said that "does not necessarily equate to a dramatic growth in the aircraft population." He said smaller passenger jets would be replaced by larger ones over time.
Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210