OPINION: An opportunity to revitalize Kalispell City Airport

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An old cowhand once lamented to me, “The trouble with opportunity is its name is wrote on its butt.” Sigh — so true.

We all can remember experiences in our lives when we realized a golden opportunity after the fact. And so it is today, as the future of our Kalispell City Airport, which I shall refer to as “KCA,” once again is deliberated by our dedicated Kalispell City Council members.

In the interest of transparency and full disclosure, I do not have a horse in this race. I live in Flathead County but outside Kalispell. However, I am an aircraft owner and, going-on 60 years, an active pilot. I keep my aircraft at Glacier Park International Airport, from which I fly regularly. I occasionally fly into KCA to pick up or drop off recreational passengers, share a meal with friends at a convenient adjacent restaurant, or buy fuel. For many years I kept my aircraft at KCA, and considered at one point buying a hangar there. However, the long-standing uncertainty of the future of the airport and its tenants dissuaded me.

There are many airfields in our region that are home to private aircraft — Eureka, Libby, Polson, Ronan, St. Ignatius, Seeley Lake, Missoula, Ferndale (Bigfork), Hot Springs, Plains, Thompson Falls, Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry, Coeur d’Alene, and Spokane to name a few, as well as many private airfields — each of which is a potential source of fliers and families visiting for a day’s outing and meal at an active airfield with basic aircraft services (fuel and parking) and, especially, a friendly airport cafe.

Felts Field in Spokane is such an airfield. It is home to a wonderful and eclectic collection of aircraft and fliers, and it has a delightful, cozy, historic airport cafe on the field — the original 1930s-era WPA art-deco terminal building, decorated with historic aviation photos, aircraft models, aviation memorabilia, and Spokane history. From this family-friendly, homey cafe, patrons can watch aircraft taking off and landing, talk with pilots, and visit airplanes at the pilots’ invitation. It has an attractive, adjacent green-space with grass, trees, and picnic tables. It is open for breakfast and lunch, and is a lively community gathering place for all who are attracted to aviation and airplanes — fliers, non-flyers, individuals, and families, young and old alike. For those who have never enjoyed this airfield and cafe, it is well worth a visit.

Our own KCA could be just such an attraction for locals and visitors alike. We have the small, intimate, community airfield environment, good visitor access with a central location, general aviation services, an enthusiastic aviation community, nearby business and cultural infrastructure, and world-class scenery. KCA is well-suited to the smaller and quieter general aviation uses of the airport, including sailplanes (gliders), and skydivers.

While there are a couple of locations at KCA from which airport activities may be viewed, what we don’t have is a cozy, aviation-oriented, on-airport cafe with good runway views, a safe, green, dedicated location for families to picnic and watch airport activities, or associated visitor/spectator parking.

An on-airport cafe would be one way of further sharing our city airport and its aviation activities with the citizenry that helps support it. It could also stimulate the interests of young people and encourage them to pursue their aviation dreams, whether for personal or professional goals. It would seem that such an undertaking would be ideally suited to public-private partnership.

A generous and civic-minded couple recently re-opened Sykes cafe — an iconic and historic community gathering place — to continue the long tradition of that community institution. Our municipal airport could complement and continue that tradition, offering a fine opportunity for our community to continue to build upon its rich history, to provide yet another venue and gathering place for us to share common interests and our sense of community, and to be just that much more than yet another shopping destination.

Happily, we’re still on the front side of this opportunity, friends, which, if lost, will not be coming back.


Schaus is a resident of Kalispell.

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