...broadening the horizon
by Cynthia Brekke | October 28, 2003
There’s been some activity at the McGregor Airport as of late, and area pilots and aeronautic enthusiasts are excited about the changes. It’s come a long way from the unlit, grass runway it used to be. Now, with a paved runway, paved taxi area, runway lights that come on automatically at night and stay on (one of only two in the state that stays lit), a beacon, an arrival and departure building for pilots, a fueling station, and the technically-advanced Automated Weather Observation Station (AWOS), the McGregor Airport is on the map... literally.
The Airport Commission has also changed, increasing the number of seats available on the board from five to seven. The goal was to bring pilots, or others with airport experience, onto the commission. Among those now seated on the commission is pilot, Mark Krezowski, who owns a hangar at the airport. Mark flew ultralights before acquiring his pilot’s license five years ago and has accumulated almost 1000 hours of flying. He was instrumental in procuring the new AWOS system from MNDOT’s Aeronautical Division. MNDOT not only provided the $100,000 plus system at no charge to the airport, they will also be funding any maintenance it requires. According to Mark, they’ve stayed right on task and met every deadline they’ve set for the AWOS project.
Why all these improvements and upgrades at the airport? “The push for some of this has come with the thinking that, let’s do this now... because in the next year or two, as state budget cuts trickle down, this will get cut,” Mark explained. “Right now, the aviation sector of MNDOT has the budget for this.”
The AWOS (Automated Weather Observation Station) system is up and running. Sophisticated instruments, mounted outside to the south of the Arrival/Departure building, measure windspeed, wind direction, visibility, barometric pressure, humidity, air quality, precipitation and even lightning or lightning strikes. Also mounted there is an instrument called a ceilometer, which shoots a beam into the sky to measure cloud formations, allowing pilots to know if it’s overcast, partly cloudy, and how thick the cloud cover is. This data is fed to the satellite and a computer inside the A/D building. Pilots can then check the conditions, either from their aircraft or from the computers. They also have the ability to file flight plans, check the weather between McGregor and their destination, and have all the current data available, updated every 15 to 20 minutes. Residents will also be able to access the weather information by dialing a phone number, and an automated, synthesized computer voice will give the current data.
Other improvements are planned for the future, such as a larger, paved turnaround area for the fueling station area, with an access taxiway for pilots to navigate their planes up to the pump and right back out onto the runway, if needed. “We have a planning schedule for the airport through, about, 2008,” Mark said. He would also like to see a grass runway, from SW to NE. The arrival/departure building will also get a few amenities to accomodate pilots who may get stranded in bad weather, or need to bunk in. The commission is still working on a courtesy car for pilots who are making a short layover in McGregor and would like to grab a bite to eat at the local restaurants, etc.
“We thought we had a courtesy car, from the county, for about $200,” Mark commented, “But now they want $1,200.” The car was confiscated during a drug bust, and would be a huge benefit to the airport, but at the higher price, the airport commission is rethinking their options.
One paving project, still planned for this year, is paving the parking area by the arrival/departure building. “It’s going to be about 11 cars deep, two sides, and then walkways to the building,” said Mark. “There will be a gravel turnaround for the fueling truck.” The fuel pump is credit card only, and Mark explained the pricing of the gas. “Airports can charge anywhere from 20 percent to 100 percent uplift. We’re keeping the price at $2.07 a gallon. Duluth is about $3.00, one of the worst in the state. Others charge around $1.95, and the actual cost is probably about $1.60.”
Having all these improvements at the airport is a real plus for pilots, both home-based and those just passing through. Take, for instance, pilot Eric Benson, who runs a business called Benson Technical Works, Inc., out of Burnsville, Minn. Eric landed at the McGregor Airport recently and was amazed at the improvements that have been made, especially the AWOS. “There’s only 56 in the state, not counting this one,” he commented. “I didn’t know they put this one in.” Eric maintains weather stations and was surprised to discover one in McGregor. He passes through the McGregor Airport about six or seven times a year, flying a Piper Aztec twin-engine. “The runway is 3,400 feet, which is just enough for me to land on,” Eric commented. He’s one pilot who wasn’t impressed with the grass runway, no lights and no fuel.
A new hangar is going up, which belongs to the new Airport Coordinator, Mike Zebro. He took the newly-created position in Sept., and is in the process of acquiring his pilot license. Right now, he keeps his plane in Aitkin but, with the completion of his hangar, will move to McGregor. “I’m looking forward to the airport growing,” he said. “I’ll be checking the fuel, maintaining the Arrival/Departure building, checking the runway lights, working with MNDOT and people building new hangars.” Mike is excited about the growth and the fact that the AWOS system puts McGregor on the map. “Now, when you watch weather on T.V., they should show McGregor,” he commented. Many maps and charts will change, with the addition of the new weather station.
Mark makes an excellent point for improvements at the airport. “The core purpose of the airport is to bring commerce to McGregor,” he said. Now that McGregor is on the map, folks may want to keep their eyes open for more visitors on the horizon.
This article first appeared in the October 28, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.