June 6, 2011 By: Maxine Herr
Airline consolidations and high fuel costs may threaten to weaken opportunities for smaller airports, but meeting the demands of the business community is keeping them strong.
A recent study by the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission (NDAC) found that aviation is a significant economic catalyst for the area. Hector International Airport in Fargo is the largest commercial service airport in the state with flights to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City.
While commercial flights are important to its success, the airport is used for a variety of operations including air cargo, medical flights, military operations and business travel.
“Our success is because of the collaboration and relationship we have with the business community to identify travel needs,” says Shawn Dobberstein, Executive Director of Hector International Airport. “We can’t do anything as an organization unless the business folks are engaged with us.”
While the industry is subject to periodic declines, Hector International actually had the busiest January on record, and the second busiest February and March. According to the NDAC, the airport has the largest economic impact in the state, accounting for 40 percent of North Dakota’s airport related economic activity. But Dobberstein is always seeking more ways to assist in business development.
“We have a long-standing request for a nonstop flight to Atlanta, and for the possibility of a low cost airline coming back,” he states. But he admits there is no easy answer because the start-up costs are very high, and airlines don’t like to limit themselves with long flights. Dobberstein says shorter trips, around 700 miles, allow airlines to tap into multiple markets, whereas a flight from Fargo to Atlanta is over 1100 miles and consumes a large part of a day.
While smaller airports along the Red River corridor may not offer commercial flights to make an economic impact, they have other avenues to make their mark.
Wahpeton Airport stays active due to the manufacturing and value-added agriculture in the area. Airport manager Cindy Schreiber-Beck explains air travel is essential for existing and future business. These flights, along with crop spraying aircraft, keep Wahpeton at the top of the list amidst general aviation airports in the state. A new concrete runway and various upgrades allow the airport to meet the continuing needs of its clientele.
Access to a functional airport is a big factor for companies choosing to do business in this area. In Fergus Falls, MN, business leaders tell airport manager Curt Malecha they couldn’t accomplish their goals without the airport.
“Corporate flight numbers are up and I know city officials are trying to expand that, so the airport is much more prevalent and important to them,” he explains.
Airport activity jumps each summer as lakeside cabins attract pleasure travelers, too. Malecha adds those flights do their part to boost the economy as guests often rent a car and shop local stores.
But sometimes companies need airports for more than just moving people. For Thief River Falls Regional Airport in particular, Digi-Key Corporation relies on them to help keep promises. Digi-Key offers a 24-hour shipping guarantee to its customers.
“They wouldn’t be able to do that without air service,” airport manager Joe Hedrick says.
The Thief River airport does offer commercial service through Mesaba, a Delta connection carrier. The airport also hosts Northland Community and Technology College’s aircraft maintenance program in an 86,000 square foot training area featuring state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.
“This is the only place doing civil work on planes in the nation,” Hedrick adds. “With their work on unmanned aircraft systems, they’re a big player in the economic activity here.” RRVPB
Source: PRAIRIE BUSINESS MAGAZENE