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AIRPORT COMMISSION: Driver comes forward in airport awning hit and run

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The mystery of the damaged awning Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport has been solved. Airport Manager Jeff Wig said the driver of one of the airport’s regular vendors hit the awning causing moderate damage in several places. Wig said the driver, who was not identified, didn’t realize he had collided with the awning and did not report it right away to his employer. Once he realized the damage he had caused, the driver came forward and spoke to Wig about the incident.

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“It’s in motion now to take care of the damage,” Wig said.

Wig said the airport has no plans to press criminal charges against the driver because he was honest about the incident. “It’s about as happy of an ending as we could have gotten,” Wig said.

The vendor’s insurance will cover the repair cost to the awning. Wig said the ‘airport’ part of the signage will be removed during the repair. Wig was not certain when the repair would begin. “Basically they just need to wait for a warm day,” he said.

Wig attended his first official Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission meeting since taking over as manager.

“It’s been a wonderful first month,” Wig told the commission. “I want to thank the entire airport community for making me feel welcome.”

Breezy Point resident Mike Monahan has also joined the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport community as chief pilot and general manager for Airmotive, Inc.. the airport’s fixed-business operation (FBO).

Airmotive, Inc. changed ownership Jan. 1 when longtime owner John Riedl, Jr. sold the business to a group of including area businessmen D.J. Dondelinger and Chris Kurtzman and Jeff Voigt of Park Rapids Aviation. Monahan told the commission that things have been busy for the FBO with the transition. The FBO has undergone changes to improve both the technical and business aspects of its organization.

“It’s been a big challenge but I think it’s going to increase the efficiency of the business itself,” Monahan said.

Monahan said that everyone at Airmotive recognizes that the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport is under utilized and the new leadership at the helm hopes to change that.

“(We) have a shared vision of not only developing the FBO in more of a thriving business, but a vision to increase exposure to the airport and bring more people out here,” Monahan said.

Monahan has served as a pilot for more than 20 years and most recently worked for Air Transport International before being laid off in September 2012.

“The chief pilot part I’m used to,” Monahan said. “It’s the general manager part that I’ve got a lot of getting used to.”

Commissioner Beth Pfingsten told Monahan she hoped to see a partnership between the Airport and Airmotive, Inc. that would resurrect the Brainerd Airport Rap Club (BARC).

BARC was established as a monthly informational meeting for general aviation and something that Pfinsgsten said Airmotive took ownership of organizing several years ago.

“I’d really like to see our commission help support that,” Pfingsten said. “It’s not just one business that has that responsibility. I think as a commission we need to promote our airport and maybe partner with Airmotive ... to get those back running again.”

Pfingsten said the BARC meetings provide an opportunity to for those active or even just interested in aviation to see what goes on at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.

“It’s a great way to promote the airport,” Pfingsten said.

Wig updated the commission on the first month of his tenure as manager, commending the staff’s hard work in maintaining traffic flow despite the inclement effects of winter weather.

“We have a great crew,” said Wig recognizing the work put into keeping the airport’s runways clean and dry. “They take their jobs very seriously.”

Wig also told the commission he met with representatives from the FAA and MnDot before officially taking over as manager and learned the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport is no longer eligible for 95 percent funding from the FAA. “We are no longer considered economically distressed,” Wig explained. Funding has been decreased to 90 percent eligibility. Other airports affected include those in International Falls and Hibbing.

The commission established its committees for the year including the budget, personnel, operations, and public relations/marketing, and leases committees. New commissioner and city council member, Gary Scheeler was added to the operations committee joining Jeff Czeczok and Chair Andy Larson. Scheeler was not present at Thursday’s meeting.

Czeczok questioned the need for a budget committee saying that any time the commission makes a monetary decision it requires all commissioners to vote. The commission requested that Czeczok discuss the issue with legal counsel and have a report ready for the next regularly scheduled meeting.

The commission discussed hosting a long-term planning session to develop a strategic plan for development. Wig suggested the planning be kept broad and include planning for marketing, capital improvement, as well as a vision and mission statement. Wig told the commission his research into how others in aviation manage strategic planning and recommended including outside entities to be included as a subcommittee for the planning session. Wig said he has reached out to the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC) and the Brainerd Lakes Chamber as well as airport tenants to be part of the planning discussion.

“They see the important economic development implications of this facility,” Wig said.

Commissioner Don Jacobson said he disagreed with the idea of having broadly defined goals.

“The best plan is one you can fit on one sheet of paper,” he said.

Jacobson expressed concern that broadly-defined goals could delay progress. “I want to see something concrete come and I don’t think it should take six months to a year to accomplish it.”

Wig agreed with Jacobson suggesting the commission implement performance metrics to show progress on meeting goals. “I don’t think this is something that should take a long time,” Wig said. “I’m a fan of keeping things quick.”

Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom suggested commission Chair Andy Larson, Jacobson and Wig head the committee to prepare for the strategic planning meeting.

The commission will hold an open strategic planning meeting March 7 following its regularly scheduled monthly commission meeting.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at sarah.nelsonkatzenberger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5879.

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