Dickinson’s only airport is too small and handles too many passengers, those who operate the facility said Thursday.
However, updates to the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport could cost up to $150 million, according to the facility’s master plan, and North Dakota and local leaders said it needs to plan for more unexpected growth.
“One, we have to get you going and, two, we have to be flexible,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Members of the Dickinson City Commission, Dickinson Airport Authority, Federal Aviation Administration and North Dakota Aeronautics Commission discussed the airport’s master plan with Hoeven during a roundtable discussion at the city’s Public Works building.
The plan outlined three proposals to upgrade the airport, all of which would require land acquisition from adjoining landowners and an airline terminal relocation.
“Everything is strained, from the bathrooms to the area where you bring people into just to get tickets and get on the airplanes,” interim airport manager Ken Kussy said. “Think of it this way: You have 200 people in a space that was designed for 30, at the max.”
Traffic has outgrown the airport.
Before 2013, Great Lakes Aviation flew a 30-passenger plane to Denver twice a day and less than 40,000 people walked through Dickinson’s terminal each year. The airport has since added United Airlines flights to Denver and Delta Air Lines flights to Minneapolis. Each airline makes three trips in and out of the airport each day.
The terminal serviced 60,000 passengers last year and handles almost 6,000 planes a month, Kussy said.
KLJ, the Dickinson-based engineering group behind the master plan, estimates the airport could break the 100,000-passenger threshold in five years. Numbers could approach 180,000 a year by 2033, but the master plan shows the numbers leveling off at that point.
Still, engineer Tom Schauer said the numbers could be an underestimate, adding the authority should plan for expansion, if needed.
The runway would be expanded from 100 feet to 150 feet in width and 6,400 feet to 7,700 feet in length, and taxiways would be widened for turning.
A new terminal would also be built. The existing one, which could be repurposed, is 9,500 square feet, Schauer said. The airport needs a terminal that is 49,000 square feet, he said, adding space is forecasted to expand to 63,900 square feet.
The three options would range from $100 million to $150 million, depending on whether the authority uses asphalt or concrete.
The parking lot must be updated, authority board member Bob Zent said. The airport has added paved parking and toll gates, though many vehicles overflow into a dirt parking lot. A rainy summer added to the problem.
“It’s nasty there, and people are going to get tired of putting up with it soon,” Zent said.
The biggest hurdle will be determining the fund shares between federal, state and local governments. The FAA has awarded the authority with more than $1.9 million, which Hoeven advocated for on the airport’s behalf.
Construction is not expected to begin until 2017, though that is “an aggressive goal,” Schauer said. Updates would take five to six years.
Building a new airport would be more expensive, Schauer said, adding it could take 10 to 15 years to complete.
Zent said he understands if there are interruptions, but shutting down the airport at any time is unacceptable, he added.
North Dakota prides itself on “only building what we need,” North Dakota Aeronautics Director Kyle Wanner said.
Still, he and the other participants of the roundtable agreed that Dickinson’s airport must be upgraded. The airport has seen 20 to 30 years of growth in just a few years, Schauer said, adding Dickinson has entered the regional airport era.
“That’s your front door to your community,” Schauer said. “I think someone talked about when you fly into Dickinson, what is the image that you get?
“What experience are you leaving them with?”
Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-456-1210.