Fees collected from a mix of corporate high-fliers, aviation businesses and recreational pilots sustain the Anoka County-Blaine Airport financially.
Now airport operators are toying with another revenue stream.
The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) is marketing two pieces of land on the perimeter of the airport for long-term lease and development. The development won’t be aviation-related. Rather, it could be a small-business campus, a convenience store or a fast-food restaurant.
One site, north of the airport, is about 4 acres at the corner of Radisson Road and 105th Avenue NE. The other site is 19 acres south of the airport between Hwy. 10 and 85th Avenue NE.
MAC, which owns and operates six smaller Twin Cities general aviation airports, as well as Minneapolis-St. Paul International, also is marketing six parcels of land for long-term lease and development at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.
“General aviation has been trending down in the last few years. We are looking for other sources so we can maintain high levels of service.” said Eric Johnson, MAC director of commercial management and airline affairs.
There were 76,721 landings and takeoffs in 2013 at Anoka County-Blaine Airport, second only to Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie.
Activity at the 1,800-acre airport has been relatively stable but well below the high-flying 1990s. There were a record 215,000 takeoffs and landings in 1990.
Much of the reduction in aircraft operations over the past two decades is due to a dramatic drop in flight-training activities as government-funded programs for veterans ended, as well as to the increased cost of owning and operating an airplane, said MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan.
In 2013, there were 405 airplanes based at Anoka County-Blaine Airport, more than at any of the other five smaller MAC-owned airports. There are also more than a dozen businesses operating at the airport.
Airport manager Joe Harris estimates more than 1,500 schoolchildren visit the airport each year for hands-on learning and tours.
“It’s a workspace. It’s open space. It’s a recreation space. It’s a business space. It’s a classroom. It’s a community,” Harris said. “Blaine is very vibrant.”
Couple are drawn
That sense of community and energy is why Darrel and Vivian Starr chose to build a hangar and store their restored Piper Super Cub at Blaine.
They drive past other airports closer to their home because of the camaraderie and sense of adventure and fun they’ve found in Blaine.
“The airport is where the social life is. They are just a load of fun,” said Vivian Starr, describing a weekly dinner with other aviators and their spouses.
Vivian Starr is known statewide for her informal aviation e-newsletter. She attends all the MAC meetings and reports on their outcomes.
The retired Plymouth couple have restored planes and flown for nearly their entire 50-year marriage. Darrel is the pilot. Vivian goes along for the ride.
“I am the passenger. I used to be a very good navigator; then GPS came out and I became redundant,” she quips.
The college sweethearts met in Math 315, and aviation was Darrel Starr’s opening line. He leaned over and asked Vivian about her aviation textbook.
The couple married and rebuilt their first plane in their back yard at home. They were then living in Arizona for Darrel Star’s mechanical engineering career with Caterpillar.
“We stored the propeller under the bed,” Vivian Starr recalls. “We lived with that project.”
“People got a kick out of it. They’d open a closet door and there would be an instrument panel and bits of airplane where you would normally find socks,” Darrel Starr said.
They took some time off from aviation when their son was in college.
“It’s an expensive thing to do. Whenever finances were tight, we stopped flying,” he said.
The couple eventually moved to Minnesota in 1988 and built their hangar on the Blaine airport in 1995. It took them a decade to restore their Super Cub.
They spent $15,000 on the rundown old plane and then rebuilt it piece by piece, adding a more powerful engine, longer propeller and stronger wings. Darrel, who compares it to rebuilding a hot rod, said they’ve easily spent north of six figures on it, but flying and life at the airport is their dream retirement.
Their red and white Super Cub flies slow and low. At 90 miles per hour, it’s perfect for sightseeing and after-dinner flights. They like to fly over to Stillwater and see the progress of the new bridge construction.
The Starrs say they support MAC’s efforts to find new revenue streams.
“It’s a terrific idea. Those parcels of land could never be used for aviation anyway,” Vivian Starr said.
She said the relationship between pilots and MAC has been positive.
“Generally, it’s a good relationship and things have been improving.”