Capital improvement projects and COVID-relief funding set future stage for Dickinson airport

Airport Manager Kelly Braun walked through upcoming projects happening at the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport.

People are stepping off an airplane in Dickinson.
The Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport currently has a terminal that supports 9,000 passengers per year. Following the current reconstruction of the main runway that will wrap up in November of 2022, Airport Manager Kelly Braun said that they hope to construct a new terminal since that number of annual passengers has doubled and the current terminal was not designed to support that.
(Dickinson Press file photo)
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DICKINSON — Along with finishing its main runway project, the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport (DTRRA) is working on its upcoming list of capital improvement projects from acquiring a new aircraft rescue and firefighting truck to eventually building a new terminal.

According to Airport Manager Kelly Braun, the Federal Aviation Administration and the State of North Dakota requires airports to set out a firm five-year plan of upcoming capital improvement projects. This allows for those airports to be eligible for state or federal allocations of funds.

COVID-19 relief funding

Currently, the airport will finish phase two of reconstructing its main runway, slated for completion by Nov. 3. Upon receiving more than $17 million in COVID-19 relief funding for infrastructure, the runway project won’t have to rely on local or state dollars.

“Normally, those capital improvement projects are (funded three different ways) — 90%, 5% and 5%. So it's 90% federal funds, 5% state funds and then the remaining 5% is what we call local match and that would be city, county and the airport,” Braun said. “... So the takeaway … is that I didn't have to go to the city or any of our county partners to ask for local funds this last year during the budget cycle, and I won't have to go this year to ask for a local share.”

A plane begins to land at an airport.
A plane begins to land at the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport.
(Dickinson Press file photo)

Over the past several years, the DTRRA has acquired state, local and federal shares to help launch the main runway project as well as creating a temporary runway — totaling more than $35 million in construction costs alone. The entire project from inception, however, more than doubles that figure, Braun noted.


“Way back when we started planning this process, the state contributed a considerable amount of funding for this project. Somewhere around in the neighborhood of $18 million total. And that wasn’t all for construction cost; that was from the very beginning: the master planning process, the environmental process, all the things that we had to do before we actually even turned a shovel full of dirt,” he said.

The state contributed $12.4 million for phase two. In addition, the federal government stepped in with about $4.2 million paired with a local share of $1.8 million. The federal government matched that local share and added another $1.8 million to cover 100% of the costs for phase two.

Since early 2020, the DTRRA has received three COVID-19 relief grants totaling more than $3 million that keep operations running, Braun said, adding that it takes roughly $1 million per year to keep the airport’s doors open.

“So when the coronavirus pandemic started, as you know, aviation was hugely impacted,” Braun said. “There was basically zero activity. When that happens, we also don't have any income coming into the airport. So we charge airlines fees, landing fees and rents; we get commissioned from car rental companies that operate out here at the airport. And when that happened, all those funding sources for the airport dried up. So we didn't have any money coming in. So those corona relief grants that we got were used to help offset that deficit.”

Capital improvement projects

When the main runway construction picks up in the spring, the airport will also look to acquire two additional pieces of snow removal equipment since the airport has increased its pavement surface by more than 100% then what it was previously.

“So we’re required to remove X tons of snow as a commercial airport in a certain period of time and to be able to meet that requirement, we need some additional story mobile equipment,” Braun said.

As a commercial airline, one of the mandates requires that they provide aircraft rescue and firefighting. So as air traffic comes and goes, Braun noted that the airport is obligated to have firefighters on duty and on standby 15 minutes before a flight arrives and 15 minutes after landing. Due to the size of the aircraft operating in and out of the airport, the aircraft rescue firefighter truck currently being used is undersized and has surpassed its service life of 15 years. Braun added that the truck is nearly 16 years old, and the airport looks to replace it in 2023.

In 2024, the DTRRA will move forward with aviation apron reconstruction — which includes a mill and overlay on some asphalt that’s deteriorating. That same year, Braun said that he hopes the airport will remodel its fire station to house the new aircraft rescue firefighter truck.


Airport Manager Kelly Braun of the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport is pictured at his desk.
Airport Manager Kelly Braun of the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport is pictured at his desk.
(Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Also on the horizon for the airport is an airport terminal, which is another multi-year phased project. The current terminal was designed more than 20 years ago to accommodate roughly 9,000 passengers a year at its peak. Since then, Braun said that number of passengers has more than doubled and the current terminal was not designed to support those numbers.

On Nov. 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law, enacting a key piece of his domestic spending agenda that will funnel billions to states and local governments to upgrade outdated roads, bridges, transportation systems and more.

According to the FAA, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $15 billion for airport-related projects as defined under the existing Airport Improvement Grant and Passenger Facility Charge criteria. The money can be invested in runways, taxiways, safety and sustainability projects, as well as terminal, airport-transit connections and roadway projects.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build safer and more sustainable airports that connect individuals to jobs and communities to the world. With this new funding, urban, regional and rural airports across the country now can get to work on projects that have waited for years, modernizing their infrastructure and building a better America,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a national statement.

Braun noted that within that infrastructure funding package, $5 billion is set aside for airport terminal construction, alone.

“Those federal funds are going to be allocated to terminals on a competitive nature,” Braun said. “... Dickinson’s positioned itself so that we can hopefully capitalize on those new funds that are coming out here in the next couple of months.”

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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