Small airport may be perfect hideout for suspect on run

Anoka Blaine Airport on a busy weekend. Photo: Bob Collins/MPR News/file

Officials are searching the Anoka County-Blaine airport today, looking for Ty Hoffman, who is the subject of a nationwide arrest warrant after allegedly shooting former partner, Kelly Phillips, at a convenience store in Arden Hills last month. The new search was launched after police identified Hoffman as the man believed to have robbed the TCF Bank in Blaine on Sunday.

The concentration on a place where people store airplanes should revive an old — so far, unproven — accusation: that people live at smaller airports.

The non-aviation use of hangars at Metropolitan Airports Commission airports (there are six of them in the Twin Cities) led the state Legislative Auditor to investigate the practice in 2003, after the Pioneer Press reported that hangar owners had built all-the-comforts-of-home spaces that some people lived in. The hangars are also used for storage of non-aviation items — motor homes, for example.

The Legislative Auditor’s report, however, did not find evidence that people were living at the reliever airports.

We saw no indication of hangars being used as living quarters for tenants. Some tenants had fixed up areas inside their hangars for short-term accommodations. A media article reported that one tenant’s hangar contained a loft with a full kitchen, bath and a bed.

Following the article, MAC told the tenant not to reside there overnight and ordered removal of the bed. We saw no bed in the loft, and the tenant told us they rarely stayed there overnight.

One tenant that received written notification of inspection only allowed the Office of the Legislative Auditor access to one of its hangars since only that hangar had been cited for a previous problem. However, this tenant denied us access to four other hangars. The tenant contended that there was nothing to indicate a reasonable basis to believe that the premises were not being used appropriately.

Their argument was consistent with MAC’s inspection policy requirements and, therefore, we did not pursue gaining access to these hangars. In addition, MAC had conducted a compliance inspection of these hangars within the past year and had not identified problems. We think that routine inspections may deter inappropriate activity and suggested that MAC add or coordinate hangar use inspections …

But in larger hangars — they usually go for over $100,000 on the rare occasion when they’re sold — it’s unusual not to find living space, even if it’s only intended for a few hours during the day.

If Hoffman is eventually to have been discovered hiding out in one for the last month, it likely wouldn’t surprise a lot of pilots.