Range lawmakers stress importance of Range Regional Airport renovations, bonding bill

By KBJR News 1

April 4, 2014 Updated Apr 4, 2014 at 9:45 PM CDT

Hibbing, MN (NNCNOW.com) - In 1978, when the Range Regional Airport was constructed in Hibbing, the transportation center was a good fit for the Iron Range.

Now, post–9/11, with new TSA commercial airline requirements that require space for passenger and baggage screening, demand at the airport has outgrown the building in which it's housed.

"It's definitely one of the hubs," said IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich from his office Thursday, "and one of the important selling pieces of our region."

Airport Manager Shaun Germolus says, on average, 11,500 paying customers fly out of the Range Regional every year.

But when 100 or so passengers attempt to make it through TSA screening at the same time, there are serious hang–ups in the lobby where the outgoing baggage is currently checked.

Along with that, there are only 35 seats waiting for passengers in the holding terminal.

"Then once you're through the line, actually, you can't go to the bathroom anymore," said Sertich, acknowledging the frustration of the situation. "So that brings challenges for folks."

It's an issue only exacerbated by the growing popularity of relatively affordable direct flights to weekend getaways, like Sun Country's direct flight from Hibbing to Laughlin, Nevada's Riverside Hotel & Casino every six weeks.

With a round trip and hotel paid for in the $300 price tag, along with free parking at the Range Regional, Germolus says they only plan to expand their services with similar–themed flights.

But adding services without undergoing building renovations would only make the current experience worse.

"We have been working on this project for a number of years," said State Senator David Tomassoni, of Chisolm from the Captiol in St. Paul Thursday, "and it is just something that we have to do."

State Senator Tomassoni says the Range Regional Airport is still in the Senate's version of the bonding bill.

He also knows first–hand the experience of Range Regional travel.

"People are actually picking up bags when they are coming back from trips coming back inside in sub–zero weather," said Tomassoni, "because there is not enough room in the terminal."

To make it into the bonding bill, the Senator says a project needs to serve the greater region.

With direct flights from Hibbing to Nevada, lawmakers say it's hard to imagine a more appropriate project for the bill.

This is the third year that the Range Regional Airport has been proposed for funding.

Billy Wagness
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