Claim to fame: Mt. Pleasant airport manager recalls celebrity encounters

A business jet rumbled across one of four 5,000-foot landing strips at Mount Pleasant Municipal Airport (MPMA).

In what has been a highlight of his career, Airport Manager Bill Brickner greeted Kansas City Chiefs coaching staff as they exited the aircraft. The men flew to Mount Pleasant to speak with Central Michigan offensive lineman Eric Fisher, who was drafted first overall in the 2013 NFL draft.

Hours later, Head Coach Andy Reid carried the coaching staff’s dinner, a box of hamburgers, around the airport conference room. Reid offered one to Brickner, who accepted.

Brickner says this reminded him of a separate occasion.

One year earlier, in 2012, two small dogs hovered over Brickner’s shoes. The one-time pet sitter for country singer Miranda Lambert carried the dogs to an airplane preparing for take-off.

Blake Shelton met Brickner to retrieve the precious cargo and rewarded him with a banana cream pie.

Brickner calls Reid and Shelton’s generosity his “claim to fame,” and keeps a running list of all of his celebrity encounters in his dresser drawer.

Now, Brickner relaxes in his office on a cloudy afternoon, looking for another incoming flight. A monitor sits beside him on a table, reporting barometric pressure, forecast, temperature and other numbers a pilot would need.

Suddenly, a radio gargles, perking Brickner’s interest. This time, though, silence comes through the speaker, which blends well with the quiet office.

“I never know who is in the jet until they start getting off,” Brickner says.

The Shepherd resident earned his manager’s certification in 2010 while working under former manager John Benzinger, who passed away in 2015. Brickner says his predecessor, who served as manager for 30 years, taught him “the ropes” in their short time working together. Federal Aviation Administration training, meetings, seminars and his own experiences have boosted Brickner’s knowledge of aviation and airport management.

As sole full-time caretaker of the airport, Brickner starts his day at 8 a.m. with a checklist: test the fuel system, inspect runways, and check lights. As the only full-time employee at the airport, Brickner is then responsible for hangar maintenance and incoming jets. He also pesters animals to keep them off runways.

MPMA, a city-owned airport located two miles northeast of the central business district of Mount Pleasant, became active in 1940. A recent study by the Michigan Department of Transportation Aeronautics found MPMA has an $8 million regional economic impact.

However, the airport not only provides economic development to various local businesses, it also supports local entertainment options, especially Soaring Eagle Casino, bringing big-name performers to Isabella County.

As a result, Brickner has met many well-known performers, including actor and comedian Adam Sandler and country singer Tim McGraw. Brickner says one of his more memorable encounters was comedian Chris Rock, who requested the airport manager order 13 chicken sandwich meals from Wendy’s after his show at the casino in 2017.

Brickner’s experiences at the airport are not limited to celebrity encounters. He often returns after hours to assist call-outs and has been dialed at 3 a.m. to refuel a helicopter taking a patient to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

“I never knew what an airport job entailed until I started working here,” the former engineering technician for the city says. “I took it on as a challenge. Most small airports in Michigan aren’t self-sufficient, so my goal was to get it close to self-sufficiency.”

Since Brickner became airport manager in 2016, corporate traffic has grown, City Manager Nancy Ridley says
. There are also 32 aircraft currently based at the airport — the highest ever.

Jim Jacobs, 71, has piloted planes regularly at MPMA since the 1980s. The local business owner has three antique planes at the airport.

“(Brickner) is, by far, the best manager the airport has had. He takes care of it all,” Jacobs says. “He’s young but eager to learn.”

Brickner has observed a decrease in general aviation because of steeper costs for things like fuel and training, which has affected the airport. Still, Brickner says the airport brings in 200 to 300 corporate aircraft per year and sells 50,000 gallons of fuel

“Hangars are starting to fill up again. Right now, I have five new aircraft and, potentially, two more,” he says. “There needs to be new life breathed into general aviation.”

Brickner has worked to better Mount Pleasant aviation. In return, the airport has provided him memories that keep him returning to the paved runways and metal hangars.

“What keeps me coming back every day is that I never know who I‘m going to meet, what I’m going to see or fix.”

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