Reporting Bill Hudson
BLAINE (WCCO) — Step inside St. Cloud’s newly remodeled airport terminal and you’ll immediately notice that something is strangely absent — passengers.
The car rental booth is dark, a passenger jet way leads nowhere and the luggage carousel stands silent. A terminal built for commercial air service doesn’t have any!
“Certainly, the challenge is trying to attract air service back to our community,” said airport director Bill Towle.
Just months after investing $5 million worth of terminal improvements, Delta Airlines ended service from St. Cloud. That put roughly 50,000 leisure and business travelers a year in a bind. To catch a flight, they must now drive to Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport.
So, to attract a regional carrier to resume service from St. Cloud, the city is contemplating offering a $1 million incentive to prospective airlines. The money comprised of a federal grant as well as local and area business funding would essentially guarantee any carrier a profitable operation.
“When we go talk to air carriers, what they need now is some kind of a financial incentive to reduce the risk of coming out here,” said Towle.
That proposal is catching the attention of the St. Paul-based Minnesota 2020. It’s a progressive think tank that tackles public policy related issues facing the state.
“It’s extremely important to rural areas. It’s their connection to the wider world,” said Conrad deFiebre.
deFiebre is the author of a recently released report from the group called, Holding Pattern: Problems and Progress in Rural Aviation.
According to the report, rural air service is so important to out state Minnesota that unless the state does more to keep smaller airports healthy, economic growth will suffer.
One funding solution would shift revenue away from the current reliance on airplane registration fees and onto the fuel they burn.
“There are some credible proposals out there to reduce that (registration tax) while raising the aviation fuel tax, which has not been raised from its current five-cents a gallon since 1951,” said diFiebre.
The money could be used to help fund small airport operations and assure they remain open for the benefit of all general aviation users.