Thursday, August 19, 2010

Anoka County-Blaine Airport Update

On August 18th, I attended a public meeting convened by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). The MAC was interested in having an annual meeting where they could answer questions about the airport, especially noise, from local residents. There were about 25 residents there, including some city council members from Blaine, Lexington, and Circle Pines.

The first issue raised by residents was that there was not a lot of advance notice about the meeting. I heard about it from a member of the airport's local community advisory council by e-mail on Monday, as did many of the attendees. There was a newspaper ad in one local paper but it was not very obvious. The MAC staff said that they would improve on communicating about the meeting in the future. (This all took about a half hour to discuss and people kept bringing it up, so I think they were sincere about improving communication next time!)

There was discussion about local perceptions of what the MAC, Anoka County, and/or Key Air (the operator of the airport) has or has not been trying to do regarding airport expansion. MAC staff said that there was no effort by the MAC to request extension of the east-west runway to 6,000 from 5,000 feet. The initiative last year came from Key Air and then Anoka County but then local residents began objecting. MAC staff also said that their planning document for the airport would have to show the need for an extension but there are no plans to do so. After some direct questioning, MAC staff responded that it was "not impossible but improbable" that any change would be made in the near future.

Here are some other informational highlights:

* Lifelink has a helicopter base at the airport for their air ambulance service in the north metro. This is new.
* Airport staff deliver a pilot guide for the airport to non-local pilots upon landing and re-fueling. The guide shows what steps pilots should take for takeoff and landing to minimize noise. (I asked about this since on any given day the airport may not know what out-of-state planes will be heading to Minnesota.)
* Federal law prohibits the airport from requiring the steps in the pilot guide, such as quiet times from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. The guide is advisory.
* A 2005 study from Wilder reports a local economic impact of the airport of $35 million as well as 103 on-airport jobs and 350 jobs total. (We didn't have a copy to look at though.)
* About 80,000 "operations" (one takeoff or one landing = one operation) are expected in 2010.
* There are 437 aircraft based at Blaine.
* Recreational flights in the U.S. are expected to decline over time and corporate flights are expected to increase.
* Newer jet aircraft are usually quieter than older models so technology is trending toward quieter planes.

The MAC has a noise complaint phone line at 612-726-9411. It is staffed from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can leave a message at other times. We met the staff person who takes the calls. You can also make a complaint on-line. MAC staff said that complaints often involve one or two specific aircraft and they can follow up with the operator to give them to adhere to the pilot guide. Residents at the meeting discussed one particular type of plane that they have noticed making all lot of the noise--a Piaggio Avanti II--that looks like a "hammerhead shark."

Overall, I thought it was a good meeting. More like this one will take place in the future so that residents can discuss noise issues with the Metro Airports Commission. They DO want to hear from you.