Seth Johnson/Daily Journal: Joe LaRue worked for six years to finally get Pride of the Prairie Airport licensed as an official public seaplane base.

Archived Story

EL airport seaplane ready

Published 10:49am Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, but to seaplane pilots, it is also the land of 10,000 runways. While any lake can be used to land a seaplane, Flekkefjord Lake in Elbow Lake is now a licensed public seaplane base.

The initial application was sent out six years ago, but the Elbow Lake Pride of the Prairie Airport caught a snag when the lake measured up just short of the one mile mark required for most public seaplane bases.

“The facility was just fine, but we couldn’t physically make the lake any bigger,” said Prairie Air owner Joe LaRue.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation sets high standards for public seaplane bases, and they wanted to make sure the lake was safe enough to become licensed, he said.

“When you have a public seaplane base, any pilot, regardless of skill level should be able to operate on it safely,” LaRue said.

LaRue went through an appeal process, and a solution was finally reached. The first time any pilot lands a seaplane on the lake, a briefing explaining the obstacles and traffic patterns must be given over the radio. After one briefing, the pilot is free to land on the lake any time.

Seaplane pilots are welcome to use the dock and facilities provided by the Pride of the Prairie Airport and Prairie Air. There are 14 seaplane bases in Minnesota, and Elbow Lake is one of only three that offers an airport maintenance facility and seaplane base in the same location, LaRue said.

“We can provide fuel on the water, and we’re even looking at becoming a float dealer,” he said.

Airports that offer services like this are far and few between, LaRue said.

“There are quite a few (seaplanes) around the area,” he said. “We hope to be able to grow our business by providing small services to customers. We can take the planes out of the water and switch them from floats to wheels and vice versa.”

LaRue said he thinks the seaplane base could bring some business to Elbow Lake as well. Any time people are traveling into the area from out of town, local businesses will benefit, he said.

Although the base was licensed only days ago, the airport has been preparing for the change for several years. The city built a storage facility large enough to house seaplanes, and a dock and boat were already in place before the lake was named an official public seaplane base.

“The city of Elbow Lake has been forward and progressive thinking in developing the airport,” LaRue said. “We have taken huge strides in the last 15 years. The board, city council and airport staff have worked really hard.”

LaRue said there are about 1,200 registered aircraft in the Pride of the Prairie market area, and about 10 percent of those aircraft have the potential to be converted to seaplanes.

“We live in the land of 10,000 lakes, so we also live in the land of 10,000 runways,” he said. “People can fly into Zorbaz and have dinner. With the amount of lakes in the area, it opens it all up.”

The airport was officially licensed on July 19, and it became effective on August 20.

“We’re really excited about this,” LaRue said. “We’ve been gearing up for the last five years to provide top-notch services for seaplanes. Any time we can provide another niche market others aren’t using, it helps us stand out as a business.”

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