Oil Boom Spurring Rural Airport Growth in North Dakota

Aug. 27--Rural airports may be small, but they're used for more than just crop dusters, and since the oil boom, airports across North Dakota have seen an increase in traffic.

The North Dakota Aeronautics Commission doled out its highest amount of grant money ever this year, meaning small airports in the area are able to take on large improvement projects, like new hangars, revamped runways or new terminals, said Kyle Wanner, aviation planner with the aeronautics commission.

The commission was able to give out heftier grants this year, for the 2013-2015 biennium, because it received oil impact money, Wanner said.

"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 this fast growth is the airport in Mohall, 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 still growing, too, he said.

And many small airports weren't designed to handle the increase in traffic, Wanner said, which is why they needed the grants for improvements.

While the oil boom is bringing in more business traffic at many airports across the state, rural airports are also used by agriculture aircraft, emergency services and people who fly planes for fun.

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, chair of the Kulm airport board. Kulm's airport is one of the 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.

Kulm's airport, which houses seven airplanes and has a grass runway, is putting its grants toward 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's hoping the terminal will be finished this fall.

There are some ag 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.

"After we got the instructor, it's like things just snowballed," Holmgren said. A few years ago, there were just a few planes at the airport, owned by Holmgren and his brother.

Now, because of the flying lessons, there are about 10 landings per day, Holmgren said.

"This year things have just, I can't believe how things have changed," he said, referring to the airport's growth.

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

Between this year and last year, Edgeley Municipal Airport received $32,500 in grants, which is being used to build a new hangar, Wanner said.

"We found ourselves in a shortage of hangar space," said Richard Gutschmidt, chair 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, he said, much of which comes from federal funding or the airport's own funds.

Edgeley's airport has a paved runway, and charges for private hangar space, Gutschmidt said.

Like Kulm's airport, many of the planes there are for recreational flying, he said.

Once a year, the Edgeley airport hosts helicopters from Aberdeen, S.D., or Fargo as part of emergency services training, Gutschmidt said.

"So it's used for a lot more than crop dusters," 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 up in the air because the Federal Aviation Administration wants one type of hangar built, and the Carrington Airport Authority wants a different type of hangar.

"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, and added that Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven are helping the Carrington Airport Authority communicate with the FAA on funding decisions.

In addition to building a new hangar, the Carrington airport will probably 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 it has been from businesses in Carrington, like Viterra/Dakota Growers Pasta Company.

"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, he said.

In the past few years, the airport has added two new hangars, a fuel station and has resurfaced runways, Frye said.

"We think the airport is going to continue to grow," he said.

Jamestown Regional Airport

While Jamestown Regional Airport, a commercial airport, is much different from the smaller rural airports, it 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 said he thinks the Jamestown community should be very 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. According to a 2010 North Dakota Aeronautics Commission study, 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 is planning on distributing more grants this spring, Wanner said.

Sun reporter Charly Haley can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at chaley@jamestownsun.com

Copyright 2013 - The Jamestown Sun, N.D.

Loading