Outlook is Bright for Bismarck Municipal Airport

Feb. 24, 2006
Currently the airport sees about 160,000 passengers come and go each year and that is expected to reach 300,000 in 2025.

Feb. 23--The future of the Bismarck Municipal Airport looks bright as the city begins updating its master plan.

On Wednesday, representatives of Reynolds, Smith and Hills Inc. held the first of four Policy Advisory Committee meetings as they begin a 14-month process to renew the master plan. The group is made up of members representing city and county government, the business community and airport administration.

Airport manager Greg Haug said master plans are a critical component of Federal Aviation Administration support.

"Those conducted on airports are found to get stale after seven to 10 years even though their planning horizons are five, 10 and 20 years. We're at about 10 years since the current plan was updated," Haug said.

"In this process we're planning the big picture for the airport. There's a lot of activity at the airport and there is a lot of activity in the community. We want to ensure the airport is ready to take the community to the next level."

Joe Jackson, RSH vice president, said the company is currently in the forecasting process in regards to the master plan.

"We're trying to establish the timing of certain threshold events. When aviation demand exceeds airport capabilities," Jackson said. "We want to form some triggers to help us determine when facilities have to be built."

The study looks at passenger and aircraft numbers to determine future operations. Currently the airport sees about 160,000 passengers come and go each year and that is expected to reach 300,000 in 2025. Airport facilities, with the exception of parking which is already being stretched, will be able to accommodate the growth.

But there are two businesses that are in the formative stages that may enhance the forecast, Point2Point Airways and the Northern Plains Commerce Centre.

In terms of operations, the airport sees 50,000 operations -- landings and takeoffs -- in a year. These are expected to climb to 90,000 in 20 years under normal conditions.

The airport is capable of handling up to 200,000 operations annually. But Point2Point and NPCC could enhance operations immensely depending on their success and are expected to increase operation numbers by 5,000 within their first five years.

"You won't need any additional runways, but because of Point2Point and NPCC, there may be the need for a facility buildup," Jackson said.

Point2Point is expecting to keep 12 to 15 planes at the airport and hopes are air cargo will be an important part of what the NPCC can offer.

Jackson said airports are generally broken into rural and urban settings. Urban airports are doing well, but rural airports are struggling.

"What pleases me about Bismarck is that we have seen a pronounced change from what it used to be to what we have today," Jackson said. "There have been six or seven years of sustained growth and it is more urban and less rural."

RSH provided two growth scenarios for the Bismarck airport -- breakout and doldrums. The breakout forecast would require expansion including auto parking, hold rooms, gates and baggage claims. Under a doldrums scenario no expansion would be planned. Members of the policy group were asked to determine which scenario they thought would take place.

RSH feels Bismarck will see a breakout and the master plan should reflect this. While most members of the group remained silent on the matter, those that did speak up felt the breakout scenario should be addressed.

Mayor John Warford wanted to know how the master plan would address growth and even create an entrepreneurial environment to allow other businesses to move onto the airport.

RSH's Neal Westlund said the updated master plan will show where it is best to expand, how to accommodate the growth of general aviation and provide land use plans which should draw businesses. He also noted that the master plan wouldn't force the issue of constructing facilities, but would provide a trigger point at which point those facilities should be considered. The master plan also will protect the airfields and not allow development to overrun the airport.

As part of updating the master plan, RSH will be meeting with the airport's tenants and will form a technical advisory committee from airport stakeholders. During the course of the study two public meetings also are planned.

"The first major item will be the land use plan and platting of the airport," Jackson said.

Other issues will involve adjacent wetlands, cell towers, height restrictions, storm water management and extension of the runways.

"Fowl are a big issue. You want to keep birds, ducks and geese as far from an airport as you can," Jackson said. "Water attracts waterfowl. They like to live on it and have a tendency to take flight when aircraft go over. The best way to keep waterfowl away from approaches is to keep water away."

Haug maintained the city has a good handle on many of the issues including height restrictions and noise sensitivity.

Another issue the master plan will address is compatibility of the airport with the regional transportation network. Westlund said University Drive is an important part of the master plan.