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Brainerd terminal project had not been threatened by FAA shutdown

Though the terminal renovation project at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport had not been threatened by the Federal Aviation Administration partial shutdown, Airport Administrator Steve Sievek said Thursday he was glad to hear of a compromise to end the congressional impasse.

He said Minnesota is unusual in that federal airport money is disbursed through the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Office of Aeronautics.

“Our project was not at risk,” he said. 

To his knowledge the only Minnesota airport project that had been at risk was the Duluth airport, which had been waiting on a pending grant in order to keep its project moving. Duluth’s airport project, he estimated, was about seven or eight times the cost of the Brainerd terminal’s renovation.

Looking ahead to the choice of a new air carrier to serve Brainerd in the wake of Delta Air Lines’ announcement that it would seek to end service to Brainerd, Sievek said he and other outstate airport administrators are seeking to meet with Doug Voss, CEO of Great Lakes Airlines. Great Lakes, Sievek said, is being mentioned as a possible replacement for Delta in Brainerd. Sievek said the administrators would like to ask questions about Great Lakes’ intentions and about what type of aircraft the firm might use to serve smaller airports.

One change he expects, whether Great Lakes or another airline serves Brainerd, is that a federal subsidy will be sought by that carrier. He expected that since it was available it would be sought  even though there’s a chance Congress might curb or eliminate such subsidies in the future.

“I still believe there’s money to be made operating out of Brainerd,” he said. In an ideal world, Sievek said he would like to see an unsubsidized air carrier be able to fly passengers in and out of Brainerd with ticketing and baggage handled by a major carrier.

“That would take some congressional action,” he said. “The mainline carriers got into the business because of deregulation.”

He said believed Great Lakes has been working with Delta to Delta’s reservation system and ground handlers. Great Lakes Airlines, he said frequently operates with the use of federal subsidies.  He estimated Great Lakes used $60 million in federal subsidies in 2010.