On a recent Bemidji visit, I attended the monthly meeting of the Bemidji Regional Airport Authority. I was encouraged to hear board members working to expand travel opportunities for Bemidji residents on the airlines, along with future opportunities for charter travel. These arrangements, along with infrastructure improvements, will help put Bemidji on the map as a travel hub for northern Minnesota. While the general public readily identifies with airline travel as the primary aviation activity at the airport, I feel it’s important to identify the importance of General Aviation to the continued livelihood and relevance of your local airport.
For the uninitiated, General Aviation is aviation activity other than military or airlines. So this includes Bemidji Aviation flying air freight and charter flights, local EAA and Civil Air Patrol members serving the community with their aircraft, or private aircraft owners flying to Bemidji Regional Airport to visit the many attractions in the area. Also, local flight students and visiting UND flight students are taking flying lessons in single-engine GA aircraft.
While airlines receive the most attention at airports, most of our future airline pilots and mechanics will get their start in General Aviation. As a pilot for a major airline, my career was sparked by visits to the airport to observe GA activity. I later joined the Civil Air Patrol. When in flight training in the Air Force, I had a leg up from flying lessons taken from instructors at the Nary and Bemidji airports. These were local pilots who live and work in your local community. My brother, who established an aviation business in Bemidji, began his aviation career in high school, maintaining GA aircraft as a mechanic at the Bemidji airport.
Unfortunately, there has been a decline in GA business throughout the country in recent years, in some cases due lack of support of General Aviation by airport authorities. I am concerned this trend could have negative implications for the aviation industry, and ultimately, the viability of your local airport. Unless new hangars are built and new aviation businesses are welcomed, General Aviation can’t flourish, and long-term ramifications will be felt throughout the industry, from major airlines on down to local small business. Hopefully your airport leadership has the continued foresight and vision to support General Aviation at the local airport and continues to ensure Bemidji remains an important commerce and transportation hub for North Central Minnesota.