Disco and deregulation: The MAC moves through the 1970s

As the controversy about a new site for an airport in Ham Lake faded, the MAC pushed into the 1970s with an eye toward well-managed growth.
 
Airlines continued to modernize their fleets and add destinations, while passenger counts at MSP grew steadily. The four-million-passenger level predicted for 1975 had been surpassed in 1967 and the MAC worked with the airlines to add gates at the terminal and hangars on the airfield.
 
In the early 1970s, MAC leaders made several accommodations for the airport’s growing number of passengers. In November of 1970, as the Vietnam War continued, the “Servicemen’s Center” opened at MSP. Volunteers staffed the center 24 hours a day. In its first year, the center served more than 18,000 military personnel passing through the airport.
 
The airport also continued to reach out to community members upset about airport noise. In 1971, the MAC hired Claude Schmidt as its first director of environment and noise abatement.
 
In a news story about his new post, Schmidt said he hoped to reduce the number of military flights over time, re-route flights over less-populated areas and reduce nighttime engine run-ups, which are used to test engines.
 
North Central Airlines Hangar in the 1970s
Pictured: The North Central Airlines hangar in the 1970s.

The MAC’s noise program, a pioneering effort among U.S. airports, attracted increasing amounts of media attention throughout the 1970s. The Metropolitan Aircraft Sound Abatement Council met regularly, looking for ways to reduce noise above residential areas. 

MSP’s broader growth plan hit a snag when the 1973 oil crisis arrived. Oil-producing countries in the Middle East set an embargo against exports to the US, a response to U.S. support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War.
 
Ray Glumack, who at the time was the director of operations for the MAC, told the Minneapolis Star in November 1973 that flights at MSP were being cut back substantially because of the oil crisis. Federal authorities had asked the airlines to reduce aircraft fuel consumption by 25 percent from 1972 levels.
 
The MAC maintains control of the airports; Hamiel arrives
 
The idea of moving the airport to Ham Lake in the late 1960s had brought attention to the airport’s operations and planning. However, the airport’s revenues were dedicated to maintaining MSP operations and expanding the current site as needed -- not acquiring another location.
 
Some legislators and the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning group in the Twin Cities, saw a need for a change.
 
In 1972, the Metropolitan Council began a push to gain more control over the MAC, along with the area’s transit system and sewer board.
 
The Met Council wanted the authority to appoint the chairs and members of all three agencies, and authority to review their capital and operating budgets. The Council also wanted more control over plans for a new airport.
 
In 1973, the Met Council’s efforts to take control of the MAC failed for lack of support from legislators. One change that did become reality involved the MAC’s board of commissioners, which was eventually expanded to include representatives from suburban areas where any new airport would be located.
 
In 1975, Glumack became the MAC’s executive director, succeeding Henry Kuiti, who had held the post since 1960.
 
Glumack’s tenure included guiding the airport through the era of airline deregulation and focusing more on the MAC’s noise program, which included hiring Jeff Hamiel in 1977 as manager of noise abatement and environmental affairs. 

During the 1970s and into the 1980s, the airport implemented more than 50 strategies to reduce noise. One procedure to reduce noise in 1974 involved having arriving commercial flights approach MSP at a steeper angle, reducing noise for residents several miles from the airport, but not those neighborhoods closest to MSP.
 
“Some (procedures) worked, some didn’t,” Hamiel said. “But we worked constantly to improve the situation.” 
 
Security screening comes to MSP
 
Prior to the 1970s, American airports had only minimal security measures in place, and there were no security screenings prior to getting on a plane.
 
The arrival of security screening stemmed from a rash of hijackings in American airspace, with 159 events from 1961 to the end of 1972.
 
The majority of those occurred in the 1968-72 timespan, when hijackings to Cuba became increasingly common.
 
The hijackers were often seeking political asylum in Communist Cuba, or were armed with guns or explosives and seeking to extort money from the airlines. The hijackings typically did not end in tragedy or mass casualties.
 
The airlines, meanwhile, feared that passengers would be more upset by metal detectors and a delay at the airport than the rare midair diversion of a hijacked flight.
 
The uneasy tolerance of hijacking ended in November, 1972, when a Southern Airways flight was taken over by three hijackers. The hijackers threatened to fly the plane into a nuclear reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
 
Early in 1973, the FAA began requiring security screening of all passengers and their carry-on bags. Airlines controlled the contracts for the operation of the checkpoints. Passengers quickly learned that they needed to build in extra time prior to their flight’s departure to clear security. 

The Humphrey Terminal’s early days
 
In 1975, the MAC bought United Airline’s six-year-old hangar with its paraboloid roof and converted it into what would later be named the Hubert H. Humphrey Charter Terminal. It was expected to serve 100,000 passengers per year.
 
The new international charter terminal was dedicated in 1976. The facility could handle three charter flights at a time, and passengers were transported to the main terminal by a shuttle bus that used a tunnel under the airfield.
 
The 48,000-square-foot terminal replaced the space at the main terminal that had housed U.S. Customs and arrivals of international charter flights. At the time, MSP served about 60 international charter flights per month.
 
In August of 1977, the Minnesota Zoo’s two new Beluga whales were unloaded from a plane at the charter terminal, a process that took more than an hour. The whales, transported to Minnesota from Churchill, Canada, on Hudson Bay, were among the zoo’s top attractions in its early years.
 
This original charter terminal would be replaced in 2002 by a much more modern and spacious building.
 
Airline deregulation comes to MSP; Republic Airlines forms
 
Prior to 1978, the federal government controlled airfares, routes and market entry of new airlines. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 eventually brought dramatic change to the airline industry, including increased competition and more airlines flying out of MSP and other airports across the nation.

The first merger of airlines after deregulation occurred in 1979. North Central Airlines and Southern Airways merged to form Republic Airlines, with headquarters at MSP.
 
Just prior to deregulation, MSP was served by eight mainline carriers and four commuter airlines, Glumack told the Minneapolis Star.
 
Soon after deregulation in 1978, MSP had 15 major carriers and eight commuter airlines serving the market, with 13 more waiting in the wings and four international airlines looking for access to gates, Glumack said.
 
Republic Airlines had a large presence at MSP, due to North Central’s history at the airport. But the airline’s largest hub was located in Detroit. Republic also bought out Hughes Airwest in 1980, making the new airline the largest in the country as measured by the number of airports served.
 
Jet fuel prices had doubled in 1979, but the after-effects of deregulation were playing a large role in the airline market.
 
Northwest Airlines, which would merge with Republic later in the 1980s, announced a new, broader domestic schedule, serving 20 new domestic markets, and ratcheted up its international destinations as well. That included the first trans-Atlantic passenger service through Detroit and New York to Copenhagen and Stockholm in 1979.
 
Passenger service to Glasgow soon followed and on June 2, 1980, Northwest flew the first Twin Cities-to-London (Gatwick) direct flight on a Boeing 747. 
 
Sources:
 
MAC archive materials.
 
Minneapolis Star newspaper articles.
 
Minnesota Historical Society archives.
 
“Northwest Airlines: The first 80 years,” by Geoff Jones.
 
“America’s North Coast Gateway,” by Karl Bremer.