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Airport makes an impact, quietly serving pilots, crews

Posted 3/29/16 (Tue)

Airport makes an impact, quietly serving pilots, crews

By Cecile Wehrman
The Crosby Municipal Airport has a direct impact of $452,141 on the local economy, according to a new report by the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.
Even more surprising may be statistics that show an indirect impact of over $1.4 million and direct employment of six people, with indirect employment of seven more.
With a first rate pilot’s lounge in place, a weather station and credit card processing of fuel sales, the Crosby Airport Authority board doesn’t even have exact numbers on the planes coming and going from the airport, located just north of town, but Board President Mike Melby said most people would probably be amazed at how busy it is.
That’s partly due to the approach modern planes take into the airport, which doesn’t require them to circle town first, thereby tipping off the general public to their audible arrival.
Even with the present downturn in the oil economy, Melby said, companies are flying crews in and out of Crosby on a regular basis.
“There’ll be a vehicle parked there over the weekend and it’s a work truck. They’re flying people in here, they’re buying gas here at the airport,” and also staying in local motels and eating in Crosby restaurants.
But those aren’t the only jobs supported by a vibrant municipal airport.
Last summer, Melby said, there were three different out-of-area pilots using the airport as a base of operations for crop dusting, each with a two or three person ground support crew. Those operators, he said, will be back again this year.
The airport also hires people to mow and remove snow.
The report, he said, is just to try to quantify for people the return on investment communities receive when federal, state and local tax dollars are put into airports.
“It is economically feasible to have the airport here and it does help the community,” Melby said.
The weather station makes instrument flight in and out of the airport available.
“They fly in and out of here and a lot of times they don’t even come in,” he said, though the terminal building -- with access controlled by a code -- has  restrooms and a pilot’s lounge.
When dignitaries fly in, he said, the lounge is a comfortable spot for a pilot to hang out while the VIP makes an appearance in town.
Lately, said Melby, the airport has also seen more use by fixed wing air ambulance planes. It was in part due to the need to accommodate that heavier traffic that the board decided to pursue a project last summer to beef up the ramp.
Before that, “They would leave wheel marks.”
Today, Melby can look over a facility with a runway that is in good shape, with new runway lights and many other improvements -- all told bringing about $1 million in investment in just a couple of years.
The federal government provided 90 percent of those funds, the state provided 5 percent and the local match was 5 percent.
The City of Crosby aproved a loan of $125,000 from the Crosby Spirit Fund to meet the match on the most recent projects, and Melby said the money will soon be paid back.
“The city has been real proactive working for the airport,” said Melby, also granting $55,000 to the airport in 2013.
The board receives only a small mill levy from the county -- under $12,000 per year.
At a time when oil impact funds for all political subdivisions are languishing, it’s good to be caught up on improvements, but Melby said the board can’t rest on its laurels. Keeping up with maintenance and repair is a constant if the airport is to remain vital. 
On the wish list for the future is attracting a flight instructor to cultivate a crop of new local pilots -- Crosby no longer has any resident crop dusters -- and a desire to replace some of the oldest hangars, which date back to the 1940s. Finally, land acquisition for extension of the runway may someday be in the cards.
For the present, nothing puts a smile on Melby’s face like recalling the comments of so many pilots who have visited.
“You’ve got a nice little airport here,” they tell him.