The upcoming master plan for the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport focuses on how the airport will look in 20 years, if growth projections come to fruition.
Members of the public got the chance to see the first few chapters of the plan at an open house Tuesday evening at the airport. The airport’s consultant engineering firm, Mead & Hunt, has been spearheading the planning process.
Mead & Hunt consultants, along with airport Director Steve Wright, were on hand to field questions attendees might have about the plan. The master plan is used as a funding mechanism and to notify the Federal Aviation Administration of potential future projects at the airport, Wright said. It serves as a guiding document to help the FAA allocate grants for projects at airports, he said. Airports complete a master plan every 20 years.
A big focus of the master plan is future landside development outside the terminal area, like the hangar and helicopter areas. Those areas have the potential for development and the master plan’s goal is to identify the best way to use those areas.
As part of the master planning process, Mead & Hunt used different models to forecast growth at the airport, Wright said. The plan includes projections for annual passenger enplanements, the number of aircraft based at the airport and the annual number of general aviation operations at the airport. A general aviation operation consists of takeoffs, landings and touch-and-gos, which is when an aircraft lands and takes off at a runway without coming to a full stop.
The forecasts are optimistic, which allows the airport to plan for the best-case scenario, said Evan Barrett, planner with Mead & Hunt. If general aviation operations increase, it creates a need for more apron space and runway space, he said.
The projections start in 2014 and run through 2034. The actual enplanement figures for 2015 and 2016 closely mirror the forecasted figures, Wright said, which validates the forecasts.
The master plan also evaluates the airport’s catchment area, which is the geographic area from which the airport pulls its passengers. The area roughly stretches west to Wadena, south to Little Falls, east to McGregor and north to Backus.
The catchment area is determined by looking at the zip codes associated with each airplane ticket purchased in the state, Barrett said. The airport is only capturing about 12 percent of airplane ticket purchases in the catchment area, so the goal is to increase that figure to 20 percent, he said.
The airport’s current master plan was contentious because it included the construction of a new runway, Wright said. The new master plan will be less controversial, he said, and will focus more on how the airport can accommodate the growth that’s forecasted.
The older runway runs roughly east to west, while the newer one runs roughly north to south. The newer runway is farther away from the airport terminal building, so the master plan focuses on moving essential services like snow removal and aircraft rescue and firefighting closer to the newer runway, Wright said.
There also needs to be better taxiways so aircraft can circulate the airfield more efficiently, Wright said.
“In aviation, time is money,” Wright said. “The more you sit on the taxiway, the more fuel you burn.”
The new master plan doesn’t look at expanding or extending the two main runways, Barrett said, as the existing runways have the capacity to serve larger aircraft coming to the airport.
“Those runways are a great asset for a community the size of Brainerd,” Barrett said.
However, some of the smaller aircraft which use the airport don’t need the large runways to takeoff and land, Wright said. To accommodate them and give them a runway to use when the main runways are busy, the master plan includes the addition of a smaller turf runway.
“The smaller aircraft don’t need the big runways but do need short taxi times,” Wright said.
The two proposed spots for a turf runway are close to the terminal and hangar area, Wright said. They have the added benefit of being on spots where runways used to be, so the land there is already graded.
A turf runway in Minnesota has to be designed to deal with frost heaves, so there’s some site preparation and compaction involved, Barrett said, as well as ensuring the right type of grass is planted there.
“It would allow pilots that need it to land on it and there’s not a lot of maintenance,” Wright said.
Where to go
Part of the plan focuses on alternative places to put new storage hangars for aircraft. If the number of aircraft at the airport increases as projected, those new aircraft will need a place to be stored, Wright said.
New development at the airport will most likely go along Highway 210, Wright said. Options presented in the plan include locations for firefighting and snow removal equipment, helicopter hangars, corporate hangars and general aviation hangars along Highway 210.
The plan includes options to build a taxiway from the general aviation hangar area near the airport entrance to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources air tanker base located on the airfield.
It makes sense to grow along Highway 210 because there’s highway access and it would maximize the new taxiway space, Wright said.
By air or sea
With the numerous lakes in the area comes a preponderance of float planes, some of which don’t have wheels and need to land on water, Wright said. All local float planes need airport services like storage, maintenance and fuel, though, which is why the master plan includes two options for a permanent seaplane base.
“They could land on the water near the airport and we’d have a ramp system to get them out of the water and service them,” Wright said.
The two identified spots are near French Rapids and north of the airport on the Mississippi River. Float planes and boaters coexist on waters throughout the country, Wright said, so the seaplane base wouldn’t be anything new.
The airport’s fixed-base operator, North Point Aviation, sells the Kodiak Qwest airplane, which comes on wheels or with floats, so the seaplane base would work well with what’s already offered, Wright said.
“There’s a market demand for this and a desire for seaplanes to get airport services,” Wright said.
There needs to be a certain amount of clear water for a seaplane to land, Wright said. This is why a seaplane base on Horseshoe Lake or Mud Lake wasn’t considered, even though both lakes are almost entirely within the airport property. There isn’t enough clear space on either lake for planes to land or takeoff.
A key point to remember with the master plan is it’s a 20-year forecast, Wright said. All the projects included in it won’t come all at once, but rather over a 20-year period.
“We need to figure out if this stuff is 20 years out or if it will happen sooner,” Wright said. “If growth increases as projected, it may be sooner.”
The master planning process started in August 2015 and a draft should be ready to be submitted to the FAA for approval in the spring, Barrett said. From there, it can take up to a year for the FAA to approve the plan. However, planners are hopeful approval will come sooner, as they have involved the FAA throughout the whole planning process, he said.