Minneapolis area GA airports buck the trend

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The six general aviation airports operated by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) collectively grew operations in 2020 by 2% to total 326,044, or 6,381 more takeoffs and landings than in 2019.

The increase bucks the trend of U.S. commercial airports, which suffered steep declines in activity last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International (KMSP) reported a 40% decline in operations and a 62% decline in passengers in 2020.

Flying Cloud Airport (KFCM) located in Eden Prairie, and Airlake Airport (KLVN) located in Lakeville, drove the operations increase in the MAC reliever airport system. Operations at KFCM were up 19%, nearly 20,000 operations, over 2019. KLVN activity increased by 5% over 2019, with nearly 1,500 additional operations in 2020.

Flying Cloud set some new daily operations records in 2020. On May 12, KFCM was the 13th busiest airport in the country (commercial or general aviation), and on June 19, KFCM marked its eighth busiest day of the past decade with more than 750 flights, according to commission officials.

“While the pandemic forced steep declines in corporate travel and business jet activity, it appeared to open up opportunities for more flight training activities and leisure flying in general,” said Joe Harris, director of reliever airports for the MAC. “People had more time to fly. And for many, it was a great way to get outdoors and see the sights from a safe social distance.”

One of the catalysts for the increase in operations at KFCM was the temporary closure of many universities. Students enrolled in aviation programs around the United States returned home to the Twin Cities to continue their instruction at one of the many flight schools located at the MAC’s system of reliever airports, officials reported.

St. Paul Downtown Airport (KSTP), which serves more corporate flying activity, recorded a 26% decrease in operations. KSTP operations were also limited by reduced air traffic tower hours, also due to the pandemic.

The MAC’s three remaining reliever airports — Lake Elmo (21D), Anoka County-Blaine (KANE), and Crystal (KMIC) — each saw a less than 5% decrease in operations, with KANE down only 1%.

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