Wadena council member calls big airport hangar 'a very expensive storage shed'
“Aviation services are harder and harder to come by," Mark Lunde said in a recent interview. "There are people I know who travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to get their airplanes worked on.”
WADENA — The big hangar at the Wadena Municipal Airport isn't housing airplanes or airplane-related businesses, as intended — instead, it's storing airport maintenance equipment.
“That is a huge community asset that I think is underutilized," said City Councilman Mark Lunde at the May council meeting. “It's got a huge, beautiful hangar that’s a storage shed at this point. A very expensive storage shed.”
Lunde said he would like to see the hangar house an FBO, which is airport-speak for a fixed-based operator — a business that would cater to pilots and their aircraft. An FBO could offer a range of services, from repairing airplanes to providing courtesy cars for pilots and passengers to take into town. Lunde, a pilot who rents a hangar at the airport, said an FBO would attract more pilots and their passengers into Wadena, which could spur lodging and retail traffic.
“Aviation services are harder and harder to come by," he said in a recent interview. "There are people I know who travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to get their airplanes worked on.”
The Wadena Municipal Airport opened at its current location in 1998. It includes a 4,005-foot paved runway, and city employees estimated the big hangar is at least 80-by-120 feet
The amount of use the airport gets is unclear, as city employees said nobody tracks how many planes take off or land there, just as nobody tracks the number of vehicles on the public roads. However, its eight smaller hangars are all filled, and City Administrative Assistant Sharon Domier said that there is a waiting list of three people wanting airplane space. There are also five privately-owned hangars that lease city land.
"We don’t have a huge volume" of traffic, said Public Works Director Dan Kovar. "It’s a lot of local pilots. We do have some freight that comes in. We have some emergency use of the airport. ... The hospital probably uses it a lot for bringing doctors in. A lot of the businesses bring in clientele and vendors.”
The big hangar has housed airport-related businesses in the past. City staff said they were unable to immediately provide a list of tenants and dates, but Kovar said it's been about six or eight years since the hangar last housed an FBO. That operator, an airplane mechanic, didn't pay rent, but he did pay to heat the hangar. Kovar said he remembers the heating bill got pretty expensive for that tenant.
At one point, a crop duster used the big hangar seasonally. In the winter, he flew to California, Kovar recalled.
One barrier to getting another FBO in the big hangar is that there's no other building to store the maintenance equipment, Kovar said. The equipment was paid for with federal and/or state money, and one of the requirements of the funding is that the equipment must be operational at all times, which Kovar said means, to him at least, that it must be stored inside a heated building.
An aviation-related business has been interested in using the hangar, he said, but he said they would have to discuss whether sharing space is an option.
Lunde also said the airport needs to upgrade its equipment, but City Administrator Kim Schroeder said the city's funds are limited. For example, the maintenance plan for the airport calls for replacing the beacons, but the cost estimate came in at $9,500; the city has only budgeted $7,500.
There might be other, updated equipment that pilots would like to see at the airport, Schroeder said, but it comes down to two questions: "Can we afford it? Is it something that’s necessary?”
If not, it might have to wait.