McDowell Group: Lake Hood economic impact worth $42M


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A new report on Lake Hood confirms what many Alaskans already knew: small planes are big business in their state.

A McDowell Group report found the Anchorage seaplane base generated roughly $42 million in economic activity that spread throughout the state. It also accounted for about 230 year-round jobs, with seasonal employment reaching 300 positions, the report states. Those jobs produced approximately $14 million of income.

By comparison, Kodiak’s regional airport generates approximately $17 million of activity yearly, and Iliamna’s $11.7 million, according to the report.

The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, which Lake Hood operates under, contracted for the study.

Widely considered the busiest seaplane base in the world, roughly 67,000 flight operations were conducted at Lake Hood in 2012. In June, the base’s busiest month last year, more than 13,100 takeoffs and landings occurred, or 439 per day.

Operations at Lake Hood peaked in recent history when about 90,000 flights began or ended there annually from 1993-1995, the report states.

Lake Hood Manager Tim Coons said the state operates 344 floatplane slips and 443 wheeled-aircraft slips for the runway adjacent to the lake. The lake slips rent for a base of $105 per month and the land slips start at $50 per month, with additional fees for electricity and commercial operations.

When privately held slips are added to those run by the state, Coons estimated there are about 900 total at Lake Hood.

The waiting list for an available state-owned slip is over 300 names long and new applicants can expect a 10-year wait, according to the report.

Lake Hood has three designated water runways that stretch from 1,370 feet to 4,540 feet across the altered water body.

Coons said Lake Hood’s location in the midst of a metropolitan area, combined with being next door to an international airport make it an ideal takeoff point for locals and tourists.

“(Lake Hood) is perfectly suited for all of the people who want to get out and see Alaska or go out to their cabins and go hunting or fishing — all the myriad of things people get involved in through general aviation here in Alaska,” Coons said in an interview.

The report identified 25 remote lodges served by flight charter operations based out of Lake Hood and found that it served as a base for a “majority of the 23,300 non-resident Alaska visitors who purchased a flightseeing tour during their visit to Anchorage in the May 2011 through April 2012 period.”

The Alaska Aviation Museum, on the shores of Lake Hood, draws approximately 20,000 visitors every year.

In addition to tourism and recreation activities, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities; the Alaska State Troopers; the U.S. Air Force Civil Air Patrol; and the various agencies of the Department of the Interior operate out of Lake Hood.

Planes headed to support Cook Inlet oil and gas operations and mining exploration across the state also the Anchorage lake and airstrip as a hub.

 It’s also the base for the Iditarod Air Force, a group of 31 volunteer pilots that support the famed dogsled race by delivering supplies to checkpoints and transporting dogs and people along the race route.

Lake Hood’s transformation into what it is today began in 1938 — before construction of international airports in Anchorage and Fairbanks — when a channel was dug to connect lakes Hood and Spenard. An associated 2,200-foot runway was also constructed at the time.

According to state historical documents, Lake Hood received an air traffic control tower in 1954. That tower was decommissioned in 1977 when control for Lake Hood was transferred to the international airport tower.

Looking forward, Coons said Lake Hood’s 20-year master plan is due to begin revision in 2014, and he encourages the public to get involved in “refining, preserving and protecting what we have,” he said.

“This is not just an airport. It’s a part of the community,” Coons said. “People’s roots over here at Lake Hood run pretty deep.”

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

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