For nearly two decades, Pam Osgood has had one of the best seats in the house for watching the constant growth at the Mason City Municipal Airport.
Osgood’s office overlooks the main runway and taxiway, as well as the area where Air Choice One loads and unloads passengers each day.
You might say she has had a window into the future of the Mason City Municipal Airport.
Many things have changed at the airport since Osgood was named manager in 2003, but one thing has remained a constant: the airport is an economic gateway for North Iowa.
The transportation services offered at the airport – as well as air cargo and passenger flights – play a key role in the growth of the area, Osgood said.
“The airport is a vital part for the area to be successful from an economic development standpoint,” she said. “We are the front door of North Iowa and Southern Minnesota and we promote business for the North Iowa corridor.”
Osgood said the Mason City Municipal Airport has been supporting the local economic development objectives for the city of Mason City and surrounding areas – as well as for the state of Iowa – since construction was completed in 1945 and the airport was dedicated a year later.
Since the first official aircraft landing at the airport on March 29, 1946, expansion of services and the facility have been a constant.
Some of those projects have included fixed-base operator (FBO) hangar renovations, taxiway project for private hangar, airport taxiway and building expansion projects and a new airport fire department that house two crash vehicles.
The airport just completed a ramp rehabilitation project, and in 2011 was hooked up to the city of Clear Lake water utility.
Osgood said the projects have come out of various master plans that are put in place every 10-15 years. The last plan was approved in 2017.
“We have a beautiful facility and we keep it up,” Osgood said. “We’re very proud of the airport here. We will continue to do projects, but they are dependent on funding.”
Prior to 2014, the number of people flying into and out of the Mason City Municipal Airport was declining quickly. Osgood said only about 3,300 people annually used the airport for flights between 2010-2013.
Because of that, the airport lost $1 million in federal funding it counted on annually to help with renovations and expansion.
That trend began to be reversed in 2014 when Air Choice One took over passenger service at the Mason City Municipal Airport. Osgood said Air Choice One owner Shane Storz made a commitment to increasing ridership.
Osgood said Storz has delivered on his promise.
In 2017, there were 7,572 enplanements (passengers boarding) and 7,613 deplanements (passengers arriving) recorded at the Mason City airport. In 2018, those numbers increased to 8,250 enplanements (9 percent increase) and 8,207 deplanements (8 percent increase).
“We would love to reach the 10,000 mark to get the $1 million federal entitlement funds back,” Osgood said. “We certainly didn’t want to lose air service. We want to have an airport that has as much access to the national air transportation system.
Air Choice One provides four daily flights to Chicago and one daily flight to St. Louis, using eight-seat Cessna Caravan aircraft.
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Osgood said Air Choice One and the airport look to attract people within a 100-mile radius to use passenger services.
“It’s important to leave your home and return to your home,” she said.
While passenger service is a main draw to the Mason City Municipal Airport, it also is a hub for businesses and private pilots.
Both the 6,501-foot main runway and the 5,502-foot crosswind runway allows for small jets to land and take off. Four of those jets are owned by local businesses.
There also are a variety of general aviation hangars and approximately 67 aircraft are based at the airport.
The FBO provides day-to-day aviation services at the airport, including aircraft fueling, aircraft tie-down parking and various maintenance services. There also is flight instruction offered.
According to Osgood, the airport experiences about 32,000 annual operations.
Some of the companies that use the Mason City Municipal Airport include: Target, Eaton, John Deere, Cargill, Iowa State Patrol, the Iowa DNR, Poet, Walmart, Menards, Kraft, HyVee and MercyOne, to name a few.
According to Osgood, the estimated economic impact of the airport is more than $11 million annually.
Chad Schreck, president and CEO of the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp., calls the airport a great asset to Mason City because it helps attract business.
"Our business community depends on it," he said. "It opens us up to other markets. It's amazing how many private companies use it to bring in officials and clients."
Schreck said other similar-sized communities in the Midwest have reached out to see why the Mason City airport is successful.
"It's a big deal and something other communities are jealous of," he said.
Osgood is optimistic for the future of the airport.
She believes hooking up to the Clear lake sanitary district in the near future will help in marketing the airport. She said there are over 80 acres of prime airport land waiting to be developed.
“We hope to attract the right businesses,” she said. “Our hope is to capture a warehouse or logistics business.
Dave Sims, the airport’s operations supervisor for 13 years, said that a new taxiway also is in the works. He said that will allow more private hangars to be built, which would in turn attract more companies.
Currently, there are 12 private hangars at the airport. There also is a waiting list for the city-owned hangars.
“It’s a good problem for the airport to have this kind of demand,” Sims said.