By Tom Steward
No Commercial Flights, But Airport Still Hoping to Land More Federal Funds
ST. CLOUD, MN—St. Cloud Regional Airport (STC) touts lots of amenities on its website—a café, ATM, free wi-fi, free parking and a $5 million completely renovated terminal whose capacity went up dramatically from 30 to 200 travelers. There’s also a new $750,000 passenger boarding bridge secured with federal stimulus funds to keep travelersout of the elements while catching a flight. One asset, however, the newly renovated airport notably lacks—commercial flights and passengers.
“We’re here to serve the public and serve them well and have adequate facilities,” Bill Towle, airport director, told the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. “I would say the airport is a utility and we need adequate facilities to serve the public.”
Currently, an average of about one charter flight a month with 130 or so passengers uses the eerily empty 9,000 square foot glass-fronted facility. Potential passengers checking the airport’s website are notified there’s “no commercial air service” available. Delta Connection flights between St. Cloud and Minneapolis were grounded at the end of 2009 due to weak customer demand. Both national rental car agencies pulled out of their airport offices months ago.
By then, it was too late. $3.125 million in federal aviation grants from user fees on fuel and tickets, $1.131 million in state airport funds, and $767,000 in local sales taxes were already spent on what’s in danger of becoming a terminal project in more ways than one.
“One thing we did not see is that Delta was going to pull out of here. That was an absolute shock,” Towle said. “We might not have done this improvement if we knew they were going to be gone.”