Brainerd Airport: Business expansion could move FAA antennas

Federal Aviation Administration antennas at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport might move to make way for a potential private business expansion on the property.

Federal Aviation Administration antennas at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport might move to make way for a potential private business expansion on the property.

Bob O'Brien, interim airport manager, told the Airport Commission Thursday the potential project is receiving attention from state and federal officials who have indicated a willingness to fast track the approval process. Typically, project approval might take between three and five years, he said.

"They could be relocated as soon as this fall," O'Brien said.

Before the FAA and the Minnesota Department of Transportation dedicate resources to evaluating the project, O'Brien said they would like to hear interest from the commission.

The business considering expansion-Airmotive-has expressed intent to construct, but has no definitive plans. Still, O'Brien said the commission should consider acting on the issue soon.


"There should be serious consideration in a more timely manner, given the elevated people that are looking at this," O'Brien said, noting Barry Cooper, the regional administrator of the FAA's Great Lakes region, and senior members of his staff traveled to Brainerd to discuss the project.

"He doesn't normally come to a Brainerd, Minnesota," O'Brien said. "You have all of the players at the table, so to speak."

Bob Milton, manager of aviation operations at MnDOT, told the commission the FAA was willing to forego expenditures typically associated with reviewing the scope of a project-normally a between a $35,000 and $150,000 cost.

"If there is a project, or even more than 10 percent likely there is a project, right now, at almost no cost ... you will get the FAA scoping for free," Milton said.

Commission Chairman Andy Larson described Milton's assessment of the commission's task as "get(ting) on first base while the getting is good."

"The largest share of our budget is income from renters, more than the city and the county combined," Larson said. "If we want to look at long-term viability, we have to be accommodating to business and as attractive to business as possible. Because ultimately, that is the only funding source that is going to allow this airport to grow."

Commission member Don Jacobson clarified the commission could choose to "pull the plug" on the project if they did not like the costs or other aspects of the antenna relocation.

Milton said the scoping was only the first step and would not represent a full commitment to completing the work.


"After being in the meeting I don't see anybody taking umbrage with that," Milton said.

Milton noted there were many unknowns with the project, including how much the airport commission would be expected to contribute. He recommended the commission budget $150,000 for the relocation.

"The FAA is not in the business of making things easy, but they are actually trying on this project," Milton said. "They are trying to make it easy but it's not, they are never cheap."

Sara Ahlers, part-owner and CEO of AW Research Laboratories, expressed concern over whether the project would require her business to move from its current location.

"Our intent is, we would love to stay as long as possible," Ahlers said. "We just want to know what's going on."

A lease renewal for AW Research was also on the commission's agenda, although the agenda item was tabled for consideration at a future meeting once more was learned about the antenna relocation. The existing lease extends through September 2017.

Ahlers requested the lease be extended through April 2018 to allow the company time to make business decisions based upon whether they would be required to move.

"We understand if you guys need to move forward with your strategic planning," Ahlers said. "We want to make business decisions that make sense for us."


The commission passed a motion supporting the FAA conducting scoping of the project. Milton said it was likely the commission would know more details by the next meeting.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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