Airport commission listens to pilots' needs

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 1/17/01.

The Paynesville Regional Airport Commission discussed accommodations for pilots at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 10.

Even under the best scenario, a new airport is 18 months away, but the committee met with four pilots to hear their storage needs before planning the layout of the hangars.

Should a new strip become a reality, the existing hangars would have to be moved. The Minnesota Department of Transportation wants the hangars to be located near the center of the strip.

"There's going to be no access from the old hangars to the new airstrip," explained Dave Peschong, a member of the Paynesville City Council who serves on the commission.

The pilots and commission members agreed that arrangements should be made to move all the existing hangars to the new site at the same time and to make provisions to move the buildings without using the road.

Current rent and policies have been somewhat lax because of the state of the existing facility. The commission plans to call area airports to determine market rates for property leases and hangar rental.

The airport will have an enclosed T-hangar, where the planes are backed in and their wings overlap. There will be interior walls so each plane has a secure area.

The hangar will be built using an interest-free loan from MnDOT. The size of the hangar has yet to be determined. "Our interest is to make sure that we have space for everyone that wants it," said commission chair Steve Whitcomb.

The catch is the airport commission can't borrow money for hangar space from MnDOT again until the original loan is paid for, in other words, in ten years. That's why they want an accurate count of the demand for hangar space before building the hangar.

The pilots urged the commission to err on the high side, saying that hangar rental is in high demand and short supply right now.

Jeremy Nelson of Paynesville has his plane in Detroit Lakes right now, and he thought he was lucky to get a spot there. "I think anything will fill right away," Nelson told the board.

The commission's plan is to buy the land, build the runway and the hangars, and then add additional services like fuel and more navigational lights. "It's not going to be a completed project the day the first plane lands," said Peschong.

The commission also updated the pilots on the status of the airport. Right now, the commission is still waiting for land assessments to be completed by their engineering firm.

They have had their layout plan and their zoning ordinance approved by MnDOT. Another public hearing about zoning needs to be held and then the zoning committee can approve the ordinance.

The commission is talking with MnDOT about building a paved runway instead of using turf. Their previous contact at MnDOT was opposed to a paved strip, but their new contact is considering it.

While the local pilots preferred the softer landings on grass, a paved strip would be more attractive to visiting pilots.

The paved strip would be faster to build, as a year would be needed to allow grass to grow before a new turf runway could be used.

Once it was built, to pave the turf would mean closing the airport for construction. "We'd have to tear it up again," explained Whitcomb. "That doesn't make sense to us. Financially it doesn't make any sense (to do the construction twice)."

A paved strip would cost more to build than a turf runway.

The commission hopes to be bidding the project at this time next year. That would allow construction to start in the spring of 2002. "If we can pave it," said Whitcomb, "I expect we'll have airplanes on it in the fall (of 2002)."

That's the plan, but "nothing is a done deal until we get the bids back," said Whitcomb.

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