Charly Haley, Forum News Service, Published August 27 2013
Millions in state grants give boost to rural airports in NDJAMESTOWN, N.D. – Rural airports may be small, but they’re used for more than just crop dusters. And since the oil boom in western North Dakota, airports across the state have seen an increase in traffic.
To help these airports, the state Aeronautics Commission recently doled out its highest amount of grant money ever.
It means small airports in the region will be able to take on large improvement projects such as new hangars, revamped runways and new terminals, said Kyle Wanner, aviation planner with the aeronautics commission.
The commission awarded heftier grants this year, for the 2013-2015 biennium, because it received oil impact money, Wanner said.
“The North Dakota Legislature and government allocated $60 million for oil impact on the airports in western North Dakota,” and an additional $6 million for airports elsewhere in the state, he said.
Because of the oil boom, “most airports in the state are being hit with business traffic that wasn’t there before,” Wanner said.
An example of the growth is the Mohall airport, which went from housing three planes to 25 in one year, Wanner said.
It’s more of an indirect effect outside of the Oil Patch, but those airports are also growing, he said.
Many small airports weren’t designed to handle the increase in traffic, Wanner said, which is why they need the grants for improvements.
Kulm Municipal Airport
Kulm Municipal Airport received five grants from the aeronautics commission this year totaling $47,275, Wanner said.
“They were very kind to us,” said Lorence Holmgren, chairman of the Kulm airport board. Kulm’s airport is one of 36 North Dakota airports that rely completely on state and local funding. The state’s other 53 airports are eligible for federal funding because of their sizes and services.
The Kulm airport, which houses seven airplanes and has a grass runway, is using its grants for a new terminal with a bathroom, running water, an office and a lobby, Holmgren said.
“If pilots fly in, they’ll have a place to relax,” he said. He hopes the terminal will be finished this fall.
There are some agricultural aircraft at the Kulm airport, but many of the people who fly in or store planes there are “pleasure flying,” Holmgren said. The airport has become much busier since a flight instructor started teaching flying lessons there last year.
The Kulm airport opened at its current location in July 2009 after the town’s old airport, built in the 1960s, was closed in 1995 due to flooding.
In 2010, the Kulm Municipal Airport was named General Aviation Airport of the Year by the state aeronautics commission.
Edgeley Municipal Airport
Edgeley Municipal Airport received a combined $32,500 in grants this year and last year, which is being used to build a new hangar, Wanner said.
“We found ourselves in a shortage of hangar space,” said Richard Gutschmidt, chairman of the airport board in Edgeley. There are about three or four planes waiting for hangar space, he said.
The entire project will cost $465,000, much of which will come from federal funding or the airport’s own funds, he said.
Edgeley’s airport has a paved runway and charges for private hangar space, Gutschmidt said.
Like Kulm’s airport, many of the planes in Edgeley are for recreational flying, he said.
Edgeley’s airport has seen an increase in traffic since it added a fueling station a couple of years ago, Gutschmidt said.
Carrington Municipal Airport
Carrington Municipal Airport is also working on a new hangar, but is having a little trouble securing its federal funding, said Don Frye, chairman of the airport authority and mayor of Carrington.
The Carrington airport received $20,650 in grants from the state aeronautics commission, Wanner said.
Frye said federal funding is uncertain because the Federal Aviation Administration wants one type of hangar built, and the Carrington Airport Authority wants a different type.
“I think part of it is that you have people in Washington, D.C., that aren’t familiar with how airports in rural North Dakota work,” he said.
Frye said he’s sure the issue will be resolved and the airport will start work on some type of new hangar soon. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven are helping the Carrington Airport Authority to communicate with the FAA on funding decisions, he said.
In addition to building a new hangar, the Carrington airport will likely build a new runway within the next two years, Frye said, and will probably extend its current paved runway.
While the Carrington airport has seen growth since the oil boom, Frye said much of the increased traffic has been from businesses in Carrington, such as Viterra/Dakota Growers Pasta Co.
“You’d be surprised at how many airplanes fly in and out of there every day,” Frye said. He’s pleased that much of the growth is local traffic, because it’s more sustainable in the long run than just an inflation of traffic due to the oil boom.
Jamestown Regional Airport
The Jamestown Regional Airport, a commercial airport, also received a record amount of funding this year, said Matt Leitner, airport manager. The grant was $657,715, Wanner said.
Among the many improvements Jamestown’s airport will make are building new hangars and a new beacon and tower, which signals aircraft.
Leitner thinks the Jamestown community should be proud of its airport, which is growing along with the others in the state.
The statewide airport growth should benefit the state’s economy, Wanner said. A 2010 North Dakota Aeronautics Commission study shows the total economic output from all airports in the state was about $1.06 billion. The total output from general aviation airports, or small, rural airports, was about $131 million.
The aeronautics commission plans to distribute more grants next spring, Wanner said.