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Grand Forks International Airport improvements on horizon

With one fewer passenger airline operating in Grand Forks, at least one expansion project at the airport has been put on hold. But that doesn't mean Grand Forks International Airport officials aren't preparing for other capital needs. United Airl...

Grand Forks International Airport

With one fewer passenger airline operating in Grand Forks, at least one expansion project at the airport has been put on hold.

But that doesn't mean Grand Forks International Airport officials aren't preparing for other capital needs.

United Airlines will stop offering service in Grand Forks Tuesday, but Delta Air Lines and Allegiant Air will remain. Airport Executive Director Patrick Dame said preliminary plans were the in the works to expand the Byron L. Dorgan Terminal, which opened in 2011, but were temporarily shelved.

"We've delayed that because we're no longer at a crisis for that," Dame said. "If air service would have continued to grow at the rate it has been growing, we would have been facing a crisis."

But like many airports across the state, Grand Forks will need to repair its pavement and runway in the coming years.

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Replacing pavement

A large part of the airport's apron areas, or where planes are parked, is in desperate need of repair, according to a pavement analysis performed by the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.

"Our runways are all in very good shape," Dame said. "But once you get off of the runways, we really start to get into poor pavement."

Using federal discretionary funds to repair that pavement may not be feasible, Dame said, because they are not a high priority, unlike runways and taxiways.

Moreover, a significant portion of the aprons have been deemed ineligible for federal funding because UND is their primary user. Dame said airport and UND officials are developing a plan to repair those apron areas.

The airport's runway will likely have to be repaired in at least a decade, Dame said. Those costs could be as high as $50 million, he added.

"Our budgets just aren't that big," Dame said.

The airport typically gets $1.3 to $1.4 million in federal entitlement funds every year, which are based on the number of airline passengers, Dame said. It also receives state funding, its own tax levy and passenger facility charges.

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Dame estimated they have about $2.7 million a year for capital improvements. He also noted that its tax levy and passenger facility charges are maxed out statutorily, limiting its ability to raise revenue through those sources.

The Aeronautics Commission had $14 million for capital improvement projects at the state's 89 public airports this biennium, said Kyle Wanner, the commission's aviation planner.

That money is separate from the $60 million dedicated to airports in western North Dakota that have been most strained by the oil boom.

"It will take, in my opinion, some additional biennium funding to help airports reach the level they need to be for the citizens of North Dakota," Wanner said.

Looking to the future

While Dame expects the number of passengers flying through Grand Forks to at least level off next year as United leaves the market, it likely won't be long before passenger counts increase again.

Passenger enplanements have increased every year since Allegiant came to Grand Forks in 2008, according to data Dame presented to the Grand Forks City Council earlier this year. That number was expected to hit 150,000 this year, up from 135,500 last year.

Dame said there has been increased interest in corporate flights in recent years.

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"There are corporations that have changed their mode of travel to buying airplanes rather than putting 50,000 or 100,000 miles on a Suburban every year," Dame said.

To meet an increased demand, the Airport Authority is finalizing a long-term building area plan. The plan, which should be released later this year, includes a terminal and parking lot expansion.

"We are trying to get ahead of development that's coming," Dame said. "We still have to be balancing growth with maintenance."

To view an interactive map of the Grand Forks International Airport's pavement condition, click here: http://1.usa.gov/1bWreKS

Call Hageman at (701) 780-1244, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1244 or send email to jhageman@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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