WILLMAR — Early every Monday morning, four twin-engine airplanes carrying from 6 to 8 construction workers each take off from Willmar Municipal Airport bound for western North Dakota.
The workers, who are employees of a Willmar construction company, are building street, sewer, water and infrastructure projects for small cities whose population has swelled due to the oil boom.
The four planes return empty to Willmar. On Friday, the planes take off from Willmar and return with the workers. The cycle resumes the following week.
The Willmar company has flown workers to distant cities in the past, but not to the extent seen this year, says Eric Rudningen, airport operations supervisor and owner of Eric’s Aviation Services Inc.
Rudningen says Willmar Airport benefits from the increase in takeoffs and landings — known as “operations” — by the local company along with other business aircraft and individually owned aircraft.
“This summer operations are averaging 35 to 40 a week,’’ he said. “It’s improved from five years ago.’’
Rudningen said private recreational and businesses aircraft operations fell dramatically during the Great Recession. Rudningen said a few construction companies sold their airplanes and companies that continued flying did so at a lower rate.
Rudningen explains that the increase in operations is good because Federal Aviation Administration and Minnesota Department of Transportation airport funding is based on the number of operations. It’s also based on the number and type of aircraft based at the airport.
“It’s great for the airport and for the community,’’ said Rudningen. “One of the things the airport does for the region is that it brings in outside dollars into the region. It’s work that is going on somewhere else and a company here is finding success and profitability because of that. That just helps the region to grow economically.’’
Funding to airports is derived from the nationwide aircraft fuel tax. Smaller airports like Willmar benefit because it keeps smaller airplanes from flying into major airports like Minneapolis-St. Paul International and clogging up the air space, said Rudningen.
“The aviation world is very user-funded,’’ he said.
Last week the City Council’s Public Works/Safety Committee voted to renew the airport operations supervisor agreement with Eric’s Aviation Services. The agreement will be considered by the council tonight.
The six-page agreement, which was also recommended by the Airport Commission, spells out the supervisor’s daily activities needed to keep the airport safe, accessible and operational.
The current two-year agreement with Rudningen expires Dec. 31, 2014. The new three-year agreement provides a 1.5 percent increase per year in the monthly fee the city pays for the service, which will increase from $6,428 per month in 2015 and $6,524 per month in 2016 to $6,622 in 2017.
Rudningen told the committee that local airport use is very good. He said a lot of very successful companies in the area are using the airport and are happy with how things are going, although he hesitated to identify the companies.
“Just be aware that a lot of the very successful companies in the area are utilizing the airport on a very regular basis,’’ he said.