Menu

Airport History

The La Crosse area and its residents have shared an association with aviation since very early in the Aviation Era. Only eight years after the Wright brothers' first took flight in December 1903 La Crosse residents had their first airplane flight.

1911

  • In October, Hugh Robinson, a regional daredevil gave a flying demonstration to people who had gathered at the local fairgrounds.Robinson returned several days later and landed a hydroplane on the Mississippi River to deliver airmail to the city.
  • "We Present Hugh Robinson, the Far Famed Aviator and Favorite of the Curtiss Co.," La Crosse Tribune & Leader-Press 7 Oct. 1977:1; and "All is Ready for Robinson," 18 Oct. 1911.

1919

  • The city's first airport,Salzer Field, was established.The airport was located onLa Crosse’s south side at the corner of Losey Boulevard and Ward Avenue, on approximately 80 acres landowned by the Salzer Seed Company.
  • A group of local aviation enthusiasts formed the La Crosse Aero Club. The City and the Chamber of Commerce believed that aviation would catch on and would help bring economic growth to the local area.

1921

  • On February 9th, Pilot William Carroll was enroute from Milwaukee to Minneapolis/St. Paul flying the air mail route. Forced to land on the Wisconsin River due to bad weather,Carroll and two members of his crew were killedafter their planeexperiencedan in-flight explosion over La Crosse. Thistragedy had national implications. The timing of the crash occurred while debates on the government's role in aviation were occurring. As a result, funding was cut, and only transcontinental air mail routes that ran from New York to San Francisco via Chicago and Denver survived. One of the main points of debate was the ability of the Federal Government to regulate aviation under the guidance of the constitution.

1922

  • U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the case of the Wisconsin Railroad Commission, which was the predecessor of the modern Department of Transportation. The Courtruled that Federal Government has power to regulate intrastate commerce.

1925

  • The Kelly Act passed, providingsubsidies that all but created the American Airline Industry.

1926

  • The City of La Crosse purchased the land known as Salzer Field, thus becoming the first airport in theCity of La Crosse.Shortly after, Northwest Airlines began the first commercial service toLa Crosse.

1933

  • Having difficulty maintaining the airport because oflarge demandsfor modernization, the City of La Crosse abandoned Salzer Field on July 13.
  • La Crosse CountyBoardof Supervisorsleased a field on French Island to serve as a new airport.While initial work and progress on the airport was slow, a Depression Era "New Deal" programdesigned to put people to work allowed progress at the new airport to continue.

1935

  • The new two-runway field, known as Pfafflin Field, was dedicated as the new County Airport on August 18.
  • Control of the new airport, however,was not assignedto the county. A contract wasnegotiated by the county and Ray Pfafflinfor Pfafflinto operatePfafflin Field for a period of five years after whichthe county thenhad the option to purchase.
  • The County Park Commission purchased the land for $14,141.After Raymond Pfafflin filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the countydecided to give up its attempt to develop and run the airport if Mr. Pfafflin would drop his appeal.

1944

  • Construciton of the current airport site started and was completed in 1945.

1946

  • A requirement of receiving federal airport funds is for the airport land to be publicly-owned.The City of La Crossefinally purchased Pfafflin Field in February and it became city property.
  • The first two 8-unit t-hangars were constructed.
  • Viking Aviation began servicing the Airport from a newly constructed hangar building.
  • The Airports first Airport Manager, Frank Muth, was hired. He served the Airport until 1956.

1947

  • The La Crosse Municipal Airport, aclass IV airport, was dedicated on March 1.Northwest Airlines began scheduled air service the same day withfive daily flights.The three asphalt runways at the new airport were 5299 ft. x 150 ft.

1949

  • The Airport constucted its first maintenance building which still stands today.

1952

  • The Airport needing a place to conduct its daily business constructed a new administration building which still stands today.

1953

  • The city, recognizing that continuous improvement was required, builta new terminal building.
  • The city hired Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, Inc., to develop a "general plan" for the La Crosse Municipal Airport.Impressed with the location and layout of the airport, the consultantsdevised threestages of development.
  • The first stage consisted ofbuilding T-hangars, a large hangar, and refueling facilities, andalso recommendedsizes, designs, and locations for these structures. The T-hangarswould solve the initial problem of havingspace for transient and based airplanes that must be hangared overnight. The large hangar could and should serve as an administration building until activity at the airport increased to the point where a separate administration building was required. The second and third stages of development included building other hangars when traffic warranted andhiring a directorto manage the airport.

Air service continued to improve at the La Crosse Municipal Airport asthe establishmentkept pace with the ever-increasing requirements tosafeguard all persons that utilized the aviation system.These improvements included wind indication devices, improved lighting systems, improved communication systems, emergency back-up electrical power, better snow removal equipment, security fencing, maintenance storage buildings, and a terminal building.

1957

  • Theron Clark was hired as the new Airport Manager and served the Airport until 1969

1961

  • A third 8-unit t-hangar was constructed.

1968

  • A fourth 8-unit t-hangar was constructed.

1969

  • James Cotewas hired as the new Airport Manager and served the Airport until 1973

1970

  • Three new 8-unit t-hangars were constructed.

1974

  • James Brough was hired as the new Airport Manager and served the Airport until 1976

1975

  • The city builta terminal building to accommodate the traveling public.There were two fixed-base operators to provide necessary aviation services, an air cargo facility, various corporate flight facilities, and seven T-hangars.
  • La Crosse Airline Service was provided by North Central Airlines with a combination of Convair 580 and DC 9 jet aircraft and byMississippi Valley Airlines with Metroliners and DeHavilland Otters.
  • Viking Aviation, Inc., La Crosse Flite Center, and Viking International Airlines provided charterflights and air cargo services.

1976

  • Curtis Tripp was hired as the new Airport Manager and served the Airport until 1979

1979

  • Robert Kennedy was hired as the new Airport Manager and served the Airport until 1983

1984

  • Duane Haatajawas hired as the new Airport Manager and served the Airport until 1996

1988

  • An eight 8-unit t-hangar was constructed.

1990

  • The airport had grown to approximately 1,380 acres including a new terminal building, located on Airport Road. In conjunction with the new terminal building, an Airport Industrial Park was developed. The airport was and is a modern all-weather capable facility.

1991

  • With larger equipment the Airport out grew the existing maintenance building and constructed a new modern maintenance shop which is still in operation today.

1993

  • A new modernized Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting facility was constructed and remains in operation today.

1997

  • Mike Daigle was hired as the new Airport Manager and served the Airport until 2003

2003

  • Dan Wruck was hired as the new Airport Manager and served the Airport until 2012

2012

  • Clinton Torp was hired as the new Airport Director and currently serves the Airport

2013

  • La Crosse Municipal Airport was renamed the La Crosse Regional Airport to better represent the geographic area the Airport serves.

2016

  • In February the La Crosse Regional Airport Terminal Rehabilitation Project was dedicated with a nearly $14.2 million dollar renovation project.

2017

  • Construction started on a 9th new 10-unit t-hangar which will accomodate larger twin engine aircraft.

Current

  • The airportsits on 1,380 acres of land and supports approximately 19,000 operationsevery year.
  • The original runway layout is still in use, but many improvements have taken place overtime. Two of the runways have seen expansion to 8,742 feet and 6,050 feet. At 8,742 feet, the La Crosse Airport has the third longest runway in the state of Wisconsin with Milwaukee having the longest and Madison the second longest.
  • With its infrastructure, the La Crosse Airport can accommodate even the largest aircraft in service today.The airlines process nearly 90,000 enplanements and 180,000 total passenger annually.
  • The La Crosse Airport is a self-sufficient entity of the City of La Crosse;taxpayer dollars do not go into the operating budget of the airport.
  • The staff at the airport consists of 13city employees; of whom four are trained Operations Coordinators who perform ARFF and six are airport maintenance personnel who take care of the airport facilities.