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.