The Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport (DTRRA) is paving along with its new runway project, which is set for completion by the fall of 2022.
Airport Manager Kelly Braun briefed The Press in a sit-down interview Friday, Aug. 6, remarking how the construction project is making huge strides.
“We’re on time and currently under budget. We have not had any lost time injuries in the almost three years of construction, which is great,” Braun said. “We’re looking to open this up to meet the demands of the future. Dickinson is still an emerging community that’s growing and one of the cornerstones of that growth is a good airport that offers all the services that a community of this size would expect.”
The new runway will be 7,300 feet long, 150 feet wide with a weight bearing capacity of approximately 90,000 pounds. This will accommodate the aircraft that provide service to the DTRRA currently and meets the demand for future aircraft that will be coming to fruition within the next five to 10 years.
With new navigational aids that are “top of the line,” Braun said that equipment will give airport officials the ability to safely handle aircraft flying in and out of the facility.
“It’s not just asphalt. So the entire airfield lighting system also had to be removed and replaced… We also were able to increase our runway safety areas to meet the current demand. It’s the areas around the concrete. They have to be graded fairly flat and be able to withstand the load of an aircraft should it have the unfortunate event of going off pavement, which is never a good thing but it happens. So (it’s vital) those runway safety areas meet current standards,” Braun said. “We’re excited to get this project on (the) line and be able to welcome the first aircraft onto our brand new runway.”
The runway project will have a 30-40 year life span, depending on environmental conditions, Braun said, adding that they’re aiming for a 40-year life expectancy for this project.
The estimated $63 million project is covered through federal and state grants, and a small local share of approximately $3 million. Federal grants have come in stages to pay for the project, Braun noted.
“With projects of this size, the federal government picks up the biggest percentage of it. Currently, the federal government has given us loans with local shares varying in degrees. So that the last couple of grants that we have received from the federal government have been 100% participation with no local share, which has been great,” Braun noted. “That was all due to the COVID issue.”
The construction project has been phased over the last four years. The first two years were spent constructing a temporary runway to act as the airport’s main runway while rebuilding the other runway. On Nov. 3, 2020, the temporary runway was inspected for safety and opened “with flying colors,” Braun said.
A number of years ago, the DTRRA took on a master plan project, looking at the current and future needs of the community, Braun said, explaining that they also looked at industry trends and what airlines were doing as far as their aircraft fleets. As a result, airport officials decided that a runway was crucial to meet those demands.
The old runway was upgraded multiple times, Braun continued. However, the last time any updates were made was in the mid to late 1990s.
“The existing runway was deficient in several areas. We didn’t have the strength to be able to handle the aircraft that were providing commercial service here in Dickinson (with) United Airlines… It did not have the proper strength to be able to handle those aircraft that were coming in and out, which accelerated the wear of the runway that we had,” he said. “We had to look at other options. The runway that we had was also deficient in its runway safety areas. So Dickinson has historically received its commercial service through small and medium regional aircraft turboprop aircraft, which are significantly smaller; we're talking 19-seat aircraft. That increased to a 30-seat aircraft, then increased to a 50-seat aircraft. So we outgrew our runway and we had to make some changes.”
The DTRRA, which was established in the late 1940s, supports a significant amount of corporate aircraft as well as air cargo with more people shopping online and utilizing FedEx or UPS. The airport also assists with agriculture, such as aerial applicators, spray planes, etc. When the April 1 Medora fire occurred, the Blackhawk helicopters — deployed by Gov. Doug Burgum — used the Dickinson airport as the origin of its firefighting operations.
“The airport impacts the city of Dickinson and the surrounding area in ways that people probably don’t really take into consideration. So United Airlines and the commercial service, they always kind of get the headline, right? But there are a number of things that go on out at the airport that people probably don’t necessarily see,” Braun said, adding that “... We have Sanford AirMed, who has an air ambulance station here at the airport. That’s a 24-hour operation. They serve southwest North Dakota and they’re based straight here in Dickinson.”
Having Martin Construction, Inc., as the prime contractor for this project and Dickinson Ready Mix Co. & Concrete Products supplying materials has been a great way to include local companies, Braun continued. Since April, construction crews have been rebuilding the main runway, which will continue until about November. By the end of 2021, the runway is projected to be about halfway completed.