The Anoka County-Blaine Airport is gearing up for safety and electronics upgrades as it finishes one of its busiest summers.

Traffic is up at the 1,800-acre airport, and work on $370,000 worth of improvements will soon begin.

Glenn Burke, airport manager, said May was the busiest month since 2013, with about 9,400 landings and takeoffs. Last month there were more than 9,300.

The impending project will be one of the airport’s “biggest by nature” in some time, he said.

It will include taxiway lighting and updating the 20-year-old computer system at the air traffic control tower.

“Some computers, believe it or not, are still working on Windows 3.1,” Burke said. The new system will be installed overnight when the control tower is closed. Aged signs and rotting light fixtures will also be replaced. Taxiway lighting will help pilots see better when landing.

“The goal is not to have any pilots get lost at the airport and make a wrong turn on a runway,” Burke said. “There’s a potential for that to happen. It’s easy to get turned around in a big facility like this.”

Funding for the project will come from the Federal Aviation Administration and the state’s department of transportation, and whatever is left over will be covered by airport user fees.

It has been a busy few months at the north metro airport as planes are venturing out of their hangars again — a sign the economy is doing better, officials said.

“General aviation follows the economy; our lows are lower and are highs are higher,” Burke said.

Paul Perovich, general manager of Twin Cities Aviation, the largest flight training school in the state, also reported busy times at the airport. The flight school clocked in 5,500 hours last year.

“That’s a good sign,” he said.

Perovich has seen an interest spike, especially with the younger crowd.

There are several 17-year-olds enrolled in the flight school, and 40 percent of the students are college-aged.

“It’s an expensive thing to do — not cheap,” Perovich said. “But they all want to be commercial pilots so they are starting young.”

About 35 percent of the students are in the 48- to 54-year-old age range. They have a family, spouse and their kids are done with college so “they have some extra money.”

“Usually they say it’s something they’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” he said.

Burke said flight schools are helping to bring interest back to a hobby he loves.

“People feel comfortable spending their disposable income instead of putting in the bank,” Burke said. “They are working on the planes, they are hiring more people, so overall the picture looks very good compared to where it was five years ago.”

 

Twitter: @KarenAnelZamora