Editorial published in MinnPost | 11/30/12
Earlier this fall, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) hosted its annual "Community Informational Meeting" regarding the Anoka County-Blaine Airport (ANE) at Blaine City Hall.
Those attending the Sept. 12 meeting included Gary Schmidt, MAC's director of reliever airports, and Joe Harris from MAC; Andy Westerburg from The Anoka County Board; Blaine Mayor Tom Ryan; Councilman Dick Swanson; State Rep. Roger Chamberlain; Mounds View City Administrator Jim Ericson and Jack Plasch and Barbara Haake, citizens from the AC/B airport advisory commission and many other citizens.
Officials were quick to point out that ANE would not expand any time soon because of current economic conditions. No elected official would say that they did not want the airport to expand. Joe Leon, a citizen of Blaine, pointed out that many officials stressed the needs of the business community and not one advocated for the needs of another kind of stakeholder, the citizens living near the airport 24/7/365.
Schmidt said that ANE could never be a major airport. Mayor Ryan said, "There are two kinds of people those who want the airport and those who don't." He also said, "We are not bringing the big planes here. That's never going to happen."
I have talked to many people about the airport in the last four years, and I have not found anyone who "does not want the airport." I do know of hundreds of people who do not want to see it expand even further, diminishing property values and peace of mind. When I heard the emphatic promises of Schmidt and Ryan I bit my tongue knowing I could not counter the arguments at that moment without the facts in hand. Here below is my assessment of what could happen to a future ANE.
While it seems reasonable that the airport will not expand soon or quickly, let's look at what future potential ANE has for expansion. MAC currently owns a total land area of 1,900 acres at ANE. Using a Google Maps picture of ANE you can see the airport with the current 2 runways North/South is 4,855 feet long and East/West is 5,000 feet long. If you put a ruler on the map and use the 5,000-foot runway as a kind of yardstick, you can measure how far in all directions Mac property extends.
Currently the East /West potential length is 13,000 feet and N/S is 14,000 feet. Taking into account that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires a 2,500 foot Runway Protection Zone on each end of this size runway. If we do the math, it seems there is still the potential for runway expansion to 9,000 ft North/South and 8,000 feet East/West at ANE. ANE is the second largest airport property in the seven county area. By federal law any airport must allow any size plane to land on its runways if they are adequate in length and strength to do so.
Now let's take the example of Midway Airport in Chicago. According to the FAA, Midway has a total of 650 acres with 5 runways, the longest of which is 6,522 feet. The Chicago Department of Aviation website says it has 476 flights in an average day and 39 flights average every night. This is a very busy airport.
By far the most common plane flown at Midway is the B737, with 403 flights every day and 32 flights every night. Boeing calls its plane the best-selling commercial jet in history. Each B737 carries between 132 and 200 passengers, depending on the model. This is a lot of traffic at an airport that is currently only a third the size of our ANE.
Will the MAC ever allow ANE to expand this much?
Along with longer runways, there may be more than two in the future. The Metropolitan Council and MAC have an objective of "parallel runways for post 2025 system needs." at ANE. This would double the available runways. You may view this idea by downloading the MAC Comprehensive Plan. Read page 30. According to MAC, the current average number of all flights in a 24-hour period at ANE is 200.
The MAC just rolled out plans to expand Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport.
Is it really an alarmist stretch to think that we should be concerned while watching very carefully what transpires at MAC and ANE?