Death of a Minnesota airport

In time, possibly in our lifetime, the era of flight (except on airlines) will be over in the United States. Fewer people are opting to learn to fly despite efforts to breathe life into the activity, and small airports are closing.

Silver Bay, on Minnesota’s North Shore, has lost its airport. The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s aeronautics and aviation office ordered the lighting shut off, and giant “X’s” replaced the numbers on the runway. Rest in peace, little airport.

It wasn’t well kept up, at least to the standards of Minnesota airport officials.

And that’s created a problem for a few of the local pilots. For now, they own paperweights.

“It would have been nice to have had a several-month warning on this,” Tim Norman, a pilot from Tofte, Minn., tells the Lake County News Chronicle. “It’s going to be a difficult process for all of us to move our planes. You can’t just grab a hangar overnight. (A) lot of times, there are waiting lists to get on. And planes that sit outside just deteriorate faster. And if you’ve got that kind of investment in a plane, you really don’t want it sitting outside.”

“We took some data and did some measurements and we decided that it was still safe to operate from, but we told them, ‘You know, it’s only a matter of time before this runway gets in such a condition that it’s no longer safe and then the runway will have to be closed,'” said Rick Braunig, aviation safety and enforcement manager with the MnDOT Office of Aeronautics.

A lot of local airports get Federal Aviation Administration funding — which also makes it harder for communities to close their airports — but Silver Bay didn’t have enough pilots and planes left to earn the money.

Two Harbors is now the only small airport in Minnesota between Duluth and Grand Marais.

  • Joseph

    I was at the South St. Paul Hanger Swing Dance this weekend (always a fun time!) I got to sit in one of the WWII aircraft the CAF has on display and talk with one of the CAF volunteers, a young man about my age. He had just got his pilot license, and that’s something I’ve always been interested in doing. I asked him how much it costs to get a pilot license….he told me about $10,000. (Although he got lucky and was friends with a certified instructor, so he got his for close to free.) If the cost for entry for most people is $10,000, that’s a pretty steep cost of basic entry, even for those of us in the upper-middle-class. ($50k+/yr). Not to mention the cost of Aiv-gas, hanger space, an airplane, etc…..

    • Did you talk to Matt?

      • Joseph

        I talked to one of two Matt’s there who works for the CAF — not the one who works at Monteris as a biomedical engineer (my dad’s coworker — Iwas looking for him).

    • I’ve always wanted to go to that dance, especially since it’s within spitting distance of my hangar.

      My inability to dance well (at all?) is a hindrance.

      His $10,000 number is a little high. A recreational pilot license is an affordable stepping stone.

      Cut the cable and the cellphone bill and that would pay for a pretty good share of the cost.

      • Joseph

        You should come! It’s a really fun time, and some people just come for the music/food/beer/fellowship/WWII airplanes (I never get tired of seeing the WWII planes, and LOVE when they fire up Miss Mitchell to full throttle <3 )

        And if you want I can teach you for free how to swing dance! I've taught many people how to and its easy to learn, even if you are challenged in the rhythm department 😉

        Already use Over the Air TV (cable is a big waste — never had it growing up, don't have it now either), and share Netflix and cellphone bill with family, both of which are the cheap plans at that. 😛

        Cool! I'd never heard of such a certificate. Still looks expensive though… (and the guy was right about a full private pilot liscence being $10k 😛

        • There’s one inaccuracy in that. When you rent a plane, you don’t pay for gas. The rate of the plane is “wet” (includes fuel). So you’re paying instructor and rental.

          A lot of the stated costs include “ground instruction.” You can do that on your own. Order a set of videos from Sporty’s instead. Take the written test. No instructor needed. That’ll save you thousands.

          Learn in a Cessna 150 and save the big money birds for later. That’ll rent for $105 an hour at KSGS. AirTrek north charges $75 an hour for an instructor. A minimum of 40 hours is necessary for a regular private certificate ( so about $7400). Twenty for a recreational certificate ($3600). Still expensive, obviously, but it’s a matter of priorities and what people want out of their time and money.

          Also, there’s veterans funding assistance. And if you check the board at KSGS, you might be able to find some CFIs for cheap.

      • Members of my WW2 re-enacting unit usually go to this. We usually just stand around, drink beer, and chat.

        And the full-throttle run up is pretty cool as well, not as cool as an actual flight in it mind you (it’s LOUD inside).

  • jon

    I grew up near first and airport, and later a strip mall…

    When they closed the airport, they made it into a big party… we had a picnic in the grass in the airport, they had the planes lined up on the unused runway… and eventually they started the fly out… one by one they’d taxi to the runway, and take off for the last time, they’d each circle over head before flying off…

    I don’t think my uncles plane was ever housed at that airport, but he flew into and out of it on occasion…. blimps would often land there too, you’d see them as you drove by (because you can’t miss a blimp)… mostly I recall the fujifilm blimp being there.. but I’m sure there were others… I think some of the bigger real estate groups would also land blimps there… Good year might have been there once or twice, or I might just be projecting the most famous blimp on top of the other ones… Hot air balloons would occasionally take off from there too…

  • John

    How do you reconcile the MnDOT quote from Mr. Braunig (“but we told them, ‘You know, it’s only a matter of time before this runway gets in such a condition that it’s no longer safe and then the runway will have to be closed,'”) with Mayor Johnson’s quote (“they didn’t give us any notice, a chance for us to notify our local pilots”)?

    Was there a lack of urgency in the notice from MnDOT last fall, or did the MnDOT warning fall on deaf ears? What, if anything, was communicated about possible deterioration/closure timelines last fall and did the City Council convey any of that information to the pilots?

    • It doesn’t really square at all. What MnDOT said they MIGHT do someday doesn’t constitute any notice. Notice says we’ll do something in X amount of time.

      • John

        So from your perspective, MnDOT didn’t adequately convey that the deterioration might happen in less than a year’s time; nor did they let the City Council know that when they make that call, the need to act (closing the runway) would be immediate. Had MnDOT been more clear, the City Council could have prepped the pilots that this was coming sooner (months away) rather than later (years away).

        Thanks for the response.

        • Based only on what was in the paper, MnDOT didn’t issue a notice of closure.

          Now, that said… an airplane doesn’t know a runway is closed. So the pilots can still do what they need to do to get their planes out of their on a reasonable schedule, unless the town has some big development going in there but, from what I understand, that’s not happening in Silver Bay these days.