Something is happening at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport that hasn't taken place in 33 years.
Airmotive Enterprises, the fixed base operator at the airport, last sold a Piper plane in 1981. Then the airport's plane sales stopped. This year, Airmotive is back in the business of selling planes and is expanding its flight school as part of its business rejuvenation.
It's goal of selling three Kodiak floatplanes this year is well within reach with two planes sold and another interested party in the wings. The Kodiak draws attention as it sits on the tarmac, high above many of the other small planes and corporate jets.
"People come out and look at it every day," said Mark Mathisen of Airmotive Enterprises. Mathisen wears many hats, pilot, mechanic, plane salesman and base operator. Mathisen came to Brainerd from Alaska bush flying. Mathisen piloted the Kodiak to such smooth landings on Gull and Pelican lake it was hard to tell when the plane left the air to become a flying boat and when it was back out of the water.
The Kodiaks were designed for mission work. Mathisen said there are five other Kodiaks like the amphibious one in Brainerd. The 10-passenger floatplanes burn just about any kind of fuel, take-off and land in short distances to accommodate difficult terrain and reach remote areas - from the sides of mountains to the North Dakota oil fields. It may need 850 feet to get off the ground, fully loaded with passengers and cargo, and has an ability to fly 350 nautical miles before refueling.
Potential customers range from fishing and mining camps in Canada to the Chicago Police Department. Airmotive sold one of the $2 million Kodiaks to a buyer in Italy and another in Toronto, Canada.
Airmotive co-owner D.J. Dondelinger said there are numerous applications for the Kodiak, which is able to fly in any kind of weather, from sky-diving groups to those who want to cut a drive of maybe 9 hours to Williston, N.D. to a flight of two hours and 15 minutes.
Airmotive is the licensed dealer for Mission Aviation Fellowship's Kodiaks in six U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. Mission Aviation Fellowship serves medical teams, missionaries, churches, relief agencies and other serving people in remote places in the world.
"It's a pretty capable airplane," Dondelinger said. "It does an amazing job. ... We call it the turbine suburban."
Dondelinger said Airmotive profits have been going right back into improving the operations, both the physical offices and services, since they bought the business from John Reidl Jr. a couple of years ago.
Now Airmotive hopes to add mechanics and not only sell more Kodiaks, but service planes from the six-state area. The planes are made by Quest Aircraft Co. in Sandpoint, Idaho. Dondelinger said they'd like to install the de-icers in Brainerd. The Kodiak at the Brainerd airport is also a prototype for Aeroset carbon fiber floats. Mathisen said the floats are 394 pounds lighter than other certified floats making a difference for take-off distances and handling.
The Kodiak isn't the only addition at the Airmotive.
Airmotive's flight instructor Matt VanCura has six students now and will be teaching high school students what they'll need to know for their ground work in the spring, including a trip to the aviation museum in Anoka. Dondelinger said the classes are significant as the aviation industry expects to face a 15,000 pilot shortage.
The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport is in phase three of its design and decor project. Many local artist's work can be viewed out at the airport while waiting to catch a flight or walking the halls to eat at Wings Cafe.
Danae Blanck Anderson, interior designer/owner of I.D. Your World, reported the next section of the plan is to create a history timeline of the airport and local aviation information. Anderson along with airport enthusiast Mike Peterson and Jeff Wig, airport manager, have been working on generating ideas, memorabilia and historical facts for this timeline.
"We are looking for any community involvement as well," Anderson said. "Our hope is to include items from people pertaining to aviation or specifically the airport whether it be letters, postcards, posters of events, photos or any airport nostalgia that can be located." For more information or if interested in donating items contact Wig at 825-2166 firstname.lastname@example.org or Anderson at 218-330-2338 or email@example.com.