By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN A flight school at Winsted Municipal Airport will soon open, after receiving the OK from the Winsted Airport Commission and Winsted City Council during a joint meeting Tuesday.
Darrin Mason, an FAA certified flight instructor, will offer pilot training through his new business, MasonAir, pending approval by the city staff of Mason’s insurance coverage.
Airport Commissioner Joe Johnson, owner of Westside Skydivers said, “I think it’s a good marriage as far as businesses. I am funneling some customers his way already. I think it’s good to have more commercial activity out at the airport and more exposure to the local population. It gives people a reason to come out and utilize the airport, so I think this is fantastic.”
The flight school would offer instruction needed to become a private pilot or sport pilot, as well as training in tail wheel endorsement, flight review, instrument proficiency check, and instrument rating. It will also offer a ground based flight simulator, and will offer air rides.
The actual training area will be located approximately five miles west of the Winsted Airport, according to Mason. In addition, Mason will use both the Hutchinson and Litchfield airports for training purposes.
All members of the commission agreed, having a flight school at the airport was a good idea.
Airport Commissioner Kevin Kubasch told the city council that he had gotten his pilot’s license at the Winsted Airport in the early to mid-’90s when there had been another flight instructor who had offered the training and it was convenient.
Kubasch also took advantage of the opportunity to remind the council of the airport’s need to have a hard surface runway.
“With the increased traffic, I really think we should continue to work toward a hard surface runway, even, if it’s a five- or 10-year project. My hope is that we continue to work toward that end if we are going to entertain Joe’s business (Westside Skydivers), Darrin’s business (MasonAir), and other commercial businesses.”
According to Kubasch, a hard-surface runway could possibly attract larger businesses to Winsted that depend on larger aircraft.
Council Member George Schulenberg asked about the amount of traffic the flight school would bring to the airport in landings and takeoffs.
The question was answered by Airport Commissioner Glenn Weibel, who told the council that a student pilot requires anywhere from eight to 12 hours of instruction time, of which most of the time is spent doing air maneuvers away from the airport.
However, Weibel estimated that in one hour’s time, a student who is soloing will make approximately three or more landings because of the practice that is encouraged.
Winsted Airport runway now open
The Winsted Airport grass-strip runway was opened to aircraft June 1.
“I just want to say that I have been using the runway quite regularly and it’s beyond belief,” Winsted Airport Commissioner Dave Millerbernd said. “I don’t know who fixed it up because I was gone for awhile but it’s very usable.”
“I know Joe has been using his Caravan,” Millerbernd added. “It’s a little rougher than it used to be, but it’s still very, very usable and what I consider to be in very good shape.”
No aircraft weight restrictions have been placed on the airport runway at this time.
“The preliminary findings are that turf runways are approved for light aircraft and that is up to 12,500 pounds, the FAA said, for a federally approved runway,” Johnson said.
Airport improvement projects reviewed
Bolton & Menk city engineer Marcus Watson took the opportunity to report on the current status of the two airport improvement projects for 2011, which include airport pavement maintenance and the construction of an arrival/departure building.
At the last airport commission meeting, it was decided that the pavement maintenance project would be split into separate bids a base bid and an alternate bid.
The reason for the two bids is to ensure the priority areas of the taxi lanes that haven’t been rehabilitated in at least eight or 10 years are completed. The base bid is estimated to cost $61,500 with the local share at $3,075. The alternate bid would include the pavement rehabilitated in 2009. The alternate bid is estimated to cost $21,000 with the local share estimated to cost $1,050.
The council and commission will be given the option of choosing if one or both bids will be included in the project.
The project schedule for the airport terminal building will be pushed back because of a meeting which is to take place with the FAA to review the building to make sure all of the building’s elements are covered with 95 percent funding.
“We want to meet with them (FAA) face-to-face and get down to the nitty-gritty floor plan and the size of the building before we move forward,” Watson said. “We are confident that there will be a plan that is approved.”
The estimated cost of the terminal building is $362,500, with the local share estimated at $18,125.
There was some discussion regarding the size of the terminal building.
Watson informed the council that the total interior space for the new building is estimated at 1,100 square feet but was likely to become smaller.
The current size of the terminal building is 700 square feet.
Airport operations have increased significantly since the original building was constructed in the 1980s. In information provided to the commission and council, by the FAA terminal area forecast (TAF), Winsted based aircraft has increased from 15 in 1990 to 51 in 2010.
At an average of two passengers (one pilot and one passenger assumed for eligibility) per general aviation flight, there is an estimated need for a building to serve 16 people during peak usage, according to the TAF.
“I would like to know approximately how much smaller you will have to go to bring this into budget, because I wonder why we are redoing this if we are not going to increase the size,” Council Member Bonnie Quast said.
Kubasch agreed with Quast, questioning the reason for doing the project if the final result would be a building that was no more than the size of a two-car garage.
Council Member Tom Ollig told Watson to work with the airport commissioners following the FAA meeting. “Ultimately, whatever the airport commission recommends to the council is what we will seriously consider,” Ollig said. “I would run it past them and they will make a recommendation to the council and we will take it from there.”
The project bid date has been moved ahead two weeks to Tuesday, June 21.