Growing pains strike as oil booms

North Dakota airports in the heart of the Bakken oil boom rush to meet escalating demands by putting improvement projects on the fast track


The resulting research projected growth that put Minot on pace to handle the same number of passengers as airports in Sioux Falls and Fargo; both of which have terminals between 118,000 and 175,000 square feet, four or more gates, and more than 1,000 parking spaces.

The terminal study proposed three potential options for improvements:

• Moving the entire terminal and related facilities to the opposite side of the airport, for $350 million, with a completion date of around 2020;

• Expanding the 20-year-old terminal building for $100 million, which would be finished by 2016 or later; or

• Building a new terminal near the current facility to take advantage of existing buildings, runways and parking lots, for an estimated $85 million with a target completion date of Fall 2015.

Construction has already begun on Option 3, which includes a new passenger terminal building and apron, terminal access roads and a parking lot. The new terminal will boast enough counter space for up to six airlines, room for three security lines, a hold room area large enough for six gates, a restaurant and bar, a kid’s play area, administrative offices and conference rooms, room for five car rental facilities, and an inline baggage system.

“All of this is possible because we completed our terminal study in four months, and started design immediately after that was finished,” says Solsvig.

But though the airport accelerated the project’s design, Solsvig says their work might have been futile had stakeholders been unable to convince state and FAA officials that renovations and revenue were needed. “We had to educate them about why Minot needed to become a priority,” he says. “We invited them for site visits and gave them tours. We shared our statistical data and information, but still it was a challenge.”

Their efforts paid off with the state agreeing to fund approximately half of the project, and the FAA and the City of Minot picking up the rest.

Had Minot not seen the writing on the wall when it did, this scenario might have played out very differently. “The city was very forward-thinking,” says Wanner, who adds the result is nothing short of impressive. “Projects like this can take up to 10 years from planning to completion,” he says. “The fact that Minot started in 2011 and will finish in 2015, is definitely fast tracking the process.”

Sloulin Field International Airport is also in line for terminal improvements, says Kjergaard, who has headed this airport for three years. Early on he met with city leaders about relocating and expanding the airport, and he recalls this conversation took some by surprise because enplanements had held steady for years.

Their quick thinking before the enplanement push began enabled the airport to complete site selection, start a master plan and embark on the environmental phase of the proposed project. Currently they are waiting on FAA approvals for their draft EAAs and site selection study. The FAA has recommended Williston participate in the Letter of Intent (LOI) program to fund the airport expansion and relocation, which will pay for approximately 60 percent of the estimated $200 million project.

Dickinson’s relief is at least five years away, says Remynse. The airport is in the midst of a master plan that forecasts it will have approximately 120,000 passengers a year at its peak then level off at 90,000 to 100,000 passengers when oil drilling settles into the production phase. The plan identifies needed improvements for the terminal, runway and taxiway. If the FAA approves the project, the airport terminal complex will move to a new location near the current runway. “If everything goes off without a hitch, we could start construction as early as 2017, finishing up in 2018,” Remynse says.

 

Coping with challenges

With new terminals and other improvements up to five years in the future, airport directors have had to get creative as they cope. “They are doing the best they can,” says Wanner. “It’s rough. They have to plan differently, and users of the system have to be able to adjust for the accommodations the airports are able to provide.”

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