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Helicopter business to set down in Detroit Lakes

The Detroit Lakes and Becker County Airport may soon be expanding to include helicopter services.

The Detroit Lakes Development Authority agreed to a $15,000 loan to Todd Centerwall for his helicopter business, Snowy Owl Aviation. West Central Initiative has also agreed to a $15,000 loan.

"It's multi-purpose -- entertainment, flight school, charter, whatever you need," Centerwall said of his business.

Centerwall is working with the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Detroit Lakes to offer flight lessons and a two-year degree to receive a license. It would give the college the opportunity to offer another program -- the closest one is in Hibbing -- but even without the college, there would likely be student interest on their own time, he said.

There would also be a possibility for a future aviation mechanics class.

"It's a good opportunity without a large investment," Rod Oswald said, who has been working with Centerwall on his marketing. "You have a very nice airport here and this would just add to that."

Centerwall estimated that it would cost someone $23,000 to get their commercial license if they had no experience prior to his lessons. It would cost about $6,500 to $7,000 to earn a private license. That $23,000, he said, is much less than the average $65,000 to $70,000 it costs in other areas to earn that license.

Centerwall said with the loan, he could be up and running within 30 days. His helicopter, which he owns the title to free and clear, needs some repairs before it can be flown. His mechanic, who would also serve as a back-up pilot for the business, is located in Princeton, Minn.

Centerwall himself is 120 hours away from being a commercial pilot, which he is working towards. He doesn't need to have his commercial license to own and operate the business.

Since he doesn't have a license and hasn't owned the business, Centerwall said he has had to subcontract out helicopter rides so far. During WE Fest, for example, there were rides out of the Holiday Inn parking lot, and the business was booked full.

"Rides can be given at any time," he said, adding that having his helicopter at any event generates a lot of interest.

It's those types of rides and the college partnership that Centerwall said will keep his business going. In time, he added, he could use the helicopter for search and rescue and other expanded areas.

Centerwall is using his helicopter as collateral for the loans. He said the chopper is worth $65,000 sitting in his yard, not working.

When reviewing the financials, Centerwall pointed out that he does have a job in Detroit Lakes to pay the bills until his helicopter business is up and running.

The loan is for 20 years at 6 percent, with the verification of the title and value of the helicopter.