Crystal Airport likely to shrink

Crystal Airport, one of the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s six so-called “reliever airports,” is going to shrink. On Monday, MAC released its long-term vision for the airport.

There are three paved runways and one turf runway at Crystal, which sits in the middle of the dense neighborhoods of Crystal, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center.

If MAC’s vision becomes reality, it will have only two.

The report says the airport will continue to focus on small private airplanes — business jets usually go to Flying Cloud or nearby Anoka-Blaine — and it stresses that it doesn’t see downgrading the role of the airport.

But it’s hard to see exactly how MAC had determined that in the next 19 years, the number of planes and pilots at the airport will remain about the same. Not when the number of new pilots each year has dropped 65 percent from the 1980s in the United States and there’s little indication the graying of general aviation is a trend that can be reversed.

MAC says it’s “right sizing” its design for Crystal and notes the elimination of runways could open up the airfield for more development. It doesn’t say what kind of development that might be, other than calling it “non aeronautical.”

Only South St. Paul/Fleming Field has more aircraft operations, according to MAC. And only South St. Paul/Fleming Field and Lake Elmo Airport have more based aircraft. But the airport still ranks in the top 10 statewide for aircraft operations, largely because it still has a flight school operating on the field.

But history suggests the airport’s best days are behind it. In 1990, Crystal Airport had nearly 190,000 “flight operations” a year. Now, it’s close to 41,000. Until 2000, about 300 aircraft were housed at the field. It’s almost half that now, thanks to a slowing economy, increased fuel prices and other operating costs, and reduced interest in recreational flying by younger generations, MAC says in its report.

But MAC sees only 14 fewer aircraft housed at Crystal 19 years from now, and flight operations “stabilizing.”

MAC will hold an open house on the plan on September 27 and 29.

  • BJ

    My house is just south of that photo by a little bit, not much.

  • Fred, Just Fred

    I was at the Triple Tree fly in this weekend. There was a lot of discussion at the diminishing number of rich white guys in attendance, signaling perhaps, the demise of general aviation.

    There was a Huey, and a beautiful Sparton there though. (Not pictured)

    • I think there’ll always be rich guys but one thing that’s left out of the report is the AGE of the planes people fly which, increasingly, are from the ’50s. The rich guys got Cirruses and they’ll always be taken care of but a lot of the older folks, who maybe learned to fly on the GI Bill, are flying relics that are increasingly hard and expensive to maintain and will be from now until 2035.

      The people who aren’t rich — by aviation standards — are building their own planes and I can see that market increasing, but I’m not convinced there are enough pilots coming online to support that.

      But, yeah, there’s a fair amount of whistling by the graveyard in the high-profile aviation circles but at the grassroots level, I don’t know of anyone in aviation who sees good times — or even stable times — ahead.

      There’s going to be a tremendous amount of attrition.

  • Paul

    Quickly skimmed the report and didn’t see anything on it…. is the tower staying?

    • Nothing on it in the report. I think it depends how much further operations fall. And that’s a real control tower, too. FAA staffed, unlike Anoka. At Fleming, we don’t need no stinking’ tower. :*)

      • Big Dave

        Anoka Tower likes to think we are real tower too. Running double/triple the traffic of Crystal with less than half the people, as well as being second only to MSP for Minnesota Airport Activity.

  • Zachary

    Is hobby flying crashing? Growing up, it seemed that I knew a number of people who flew recreationally (non-commercial pilots), but now, most of them have sold their planes or retired. Even the grass field airport that I grew up near (which used to have oodles of gliders on nice days in the summer) is quiet. Is it mostly cost related, or is there something else going on? You mentioned in another reply that the aging of the fleet is a factor, are replacement planes not that easy to come by? Can you still buy kits? that was the other thing, I remember a couple of people who were building planes in their garages.

    • The problem with building an airplane is it takes a lot of time and people tend not to have the persistence necessary to do it. The main problem is the cost of fuel, hangar rent, and insurance if you have a plane. The medical certification process — which changes next year — weeded out a lot of pilots.

      But it costs a lot to learn how to fly so you don’t have a lot of people gaining that knowledge unless they’re planning to go be airline pilots.

      It’s possible to find an old certified plane to fly for <$40k. But you have to have an annual inspection once a year and you can't do it. A certified person has to do it at ridiculous rates. That's also why a lot of people build their own; they can do the annual condition inspection on their own.