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Worthington Municipal Airport - a gateway to the community

Roger Spofford, an aerial powerline inspector with Burnett County Power Line Service in Siren, Wis., pauses with his plane after fueling at Worthington Municipal Airport. (VEASEY CONWAY/DAILY GLOBE1 / 5
Patrick Crisp examines an airplane stored in a hangar. (VEASEY CONWAY/DAILY GLOBE)2 / 5
Roger Spofford flies out of the Worthington airport, a regular stopping point in his work. (VEASEY CONWAY/DAILY GLOBE)3 / 5
Patrick Crisp removes a blanket — used to help keep engines warm during storage in cold weather — from an airplane. (VEASEY CONWAY/DAILY GLOBE)4 / 5
Cameron Johnson, Fixed Base Operator at Worthington Municipal Airport, fuels a plane in preparation for departure. “It’s not just for the pleasure flyers,” he said. (VEASEY CONWAY/DAILY GLOBE)5 / 5

WORTHINGTON — It’s tucked away on the north side of town.

While it might be out of sight for most, though, the Worthington Municipal Airport has a big impact on the economy of the city.

“Worthington really does do a good job of seeing this as an asset to their community,” said Cameron Johnson, who is the Fixed Base Operator (FBO) at the airport. “They put a lot of effort into making sure they have a facility that is really an asset to the community. They are willing to take care of it; they are willing to put a few dollars out here to make sure it’s serving the needs of the people coming to use it.”

While there haven’t been commercial flights in or out of the airport in three decades, that doesn’t mean it gets used any less.

“If you average it through the year, you’re probably talking about three takeoffs and landings a day,” Johnson said. “Does that seem like a lot? I don’t know. There are probably 1,000 flights in and out of the airport. It’s really hard to track. Being a public-use facility, there’s no requirements to ask permission.”

According to Johnson, most of the flights are for business and economic development.

“It’s not just for the pleasure flyers,” he said. “The real purpose of it is that’s what brings the economics and the money into the community — the businesses into the community that provides the jobs. Worthington has done a tremendous job at that and continues to do that.”

City officials also recognize the importance of having an asset like the airport.

“We have pleasure flyers that are based out of here, and those are certainly nice,” Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said. “They purchase fuel and rent our hangars and those sorts of things. But really, the broader additional benefit is the jobs that are created with the businesses that are here . ... They need an airport, and otherwise aren’t likely to locate here. Those are sort of things people don’t see visibly but are important to business in our community that utilize the airport. That’s probably the biggest component that’s a benefit to us.”

One of the businesses using the airport is Prairie Holdings Group.

“For the airport to be useful for corporate travel, it needs an infrastructure of not only runways but also a terminal building with amenities,” Chief Operating Officer Marc Freese said. “Our airport has both, which says a lot about the dedication that not only the city has but also the city council toward this valuable resource. Over the years, the Prairie Holdings Group of companies has used the airport extensively and considers the airport an invaluable tool.”

According to Freese, there are other companies who use the airport on a regular basis. 

“At this point I know of four other local companies that are using Worthington’s airport as a base of their operations as well as many other companies that travel to Worthington to conduct business,” he said. “Having traveled to many small airports, I am always reminded how fortunate we are to have a resource as nice as we do.”And while the city sees the economic benefits of the airport, because of state and federal dollars, it comes at little cost to local taxpayers. 

Jack of all trades

As the FBO, Johnson can pretty much do it all.

He is a pilot.

And mechanic.

And flight instructor.

The list of his jobs goes on and on. Johnson’s company, Integrity Aviation, has a contract with the city for FBO services.

“I don’t know if there is specific training in being an FBO,” said Johnson, who has been in Worthington for 12 years. “I’ve trained by experience because I’ve ran a couple others before here. I do have training as pilot, as mechanic and as commercial pilot.

“You learn a lot by flying into other airports and seeing the way other airports are run, and the facilities they have and what they do.”

If that’s not enough, Johnson is one of the founders of Proclaim Aviation Ministries, an internship program used to give mission pilots experience needed. He and John Armstrong teamed to create the program.

“Him and I went to a school where they train specifically to be missionary pilots and that’s part of the reason why I’m now a pilot and a mechanic,” Johnson said. “That was actually my original goal — to do that.

“While we were going to school, we saw there was a disparity between the number of pilots that were graduating from school and wanting to go overseas as missionary pilots, but never getting there,” he added.

There are 20 pilots currently overseas in the program.

“Sometimes it’s providing relief and aid, flying in food,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of missionary pilots right now over in the Philippines with the disaster that went on there.”

Users of airport

The Worthington Airport currently has enough hangar space for more than 20 airplanes, and the hangars are at capacity.

“When we first came 12 years ago, half of them were empty,” Johnson said. “It was pretty much a ghost town. Since then, it has built up. We filled all the hangars — we built a new t-hangar building, and now that’s full.”

Many of those planes are for personal use.

“We get some private flyers that use it for pleasure,” Johnson said. “But the main thing with this airport we see is a lot of business traffic. It sits outside of the city, up north of the city, and the general public doesn’t see a lot of that.”

While there are two strips of pavement at the airport, Johnson said there are four runways because a plane can land or take off two different ways on each strip. With the runways facing different directions, the Worthington airport is able to handle windy conditions easier.

“An airplane can only handle so much side wind,” Johnson said. “If the wind is blowing 40 miles per hour, there could be too much side wind. We’ll get, at times, a lot of air ambulance flights that come in here. They can’t land in Windom because there’s too much cross wind, or the city is exceptionally good about getting out here and keeping our runway clear when we have a lot of snow.”

Clark said the city has made a commitment to upkeep and maintenence at the airport. That includes removing snow and ice from the runways.

“We see it as a tremendous service to the community to have a runway that’s able to take care of those air ambulance people,” Johnson said. “They can call us up, and we ask for an hour notice if they are coming in here when the weather is really bad. If we have an hour notice, they’ll be able to land.”

The runways are 5.500 feet, which allows most corporate jets to land.

“We had a real large airplane that looks like an airliner come in,” Johnson said. “So we have the capability of handling some good-sized jets. … It’s also been talked about as an emergency for airlines. If something happened, they could actually land here.”

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.