Twin Cities Relievers Under Pressure

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Possibly one of the most prominent examples of an urban airport system of reliever airports is under intense scrutiny, in no small part because the big airport's biggest customer is on the financial ropes. According to The Associated Press, Minneapolis's Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) is lifting every rock trying to find ways to cut expenses at six reliever airports that, by all accounts, do a remarkable job of keeping GA out of the way of the big iron at the MAC's big airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP). But even though they are credited with infusing $1.4 billion into the local economy, the little airports either lose money or barely break even and, partly at the urging of financially strapped Northwest Airlines that's caused fee increases and speculation that some of the airports might be closed. Northwest mechanics went on strike Friday, with union negotiator Jim Young saying the mechanics would rather see the airline go into bankruptcy than agree to Northwest's terms, according to CBS news. Gary Schmidt, MAC's director of reliever airports, said small airports rarely make money but there is intense pressure from Northwest to let them fend for themselves. "Its [Northwest's] position is that every penny not spent on relievers could be spent at the international airport. That's where the pressure is," Schmidt said. Northwest wants two of the six closed. But operators at the small airports maintain any gains made by closing or curtailing the small airports will be lost with the impact on scheduling if more GA aircraft are forced to use the international airport. They also say MAC should spend even more money on improvements at the relievers to make them more attractive to potential customers, thus making them more financially viable. A task force is studying the operation of the six airports and MAC commissioner Jack Lanners said it's trying to do its work objectively in the face of the pressure from Northwest. "We're trying to push those motives aside while we figure this out," he said.