Construction has begun on a new infrastructure project at the Grand Forks International Airport that its director hopes will make better use of the airport’s facilities.
Crews are working to add a road, taxi lanes and run-up apron on the east side of the airport, just north of the terminal. The taxi lanes will give general aviation planes a path from their future hangars to smaller runways on that side of the airport, said Ryan Riesinger, executive director of the Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority.
“We were constrained from the standpoint that entities that maybe would want to put in a larger corporate hangar or private hangar really didn’t have the space to do so,” he said.
The so-called “East GA” project is designed for smaller aircraft with between four to eight seats, Riesinger said. It’s been in the airport’s master plan for some time, he added.
“Aligning the aircraft that really don’t necessarily need the larger runways makes sense just from a proximity standpoint and traffic flow,” Riesinger said.
The project also gives the airport the chance to eventually demolish some of the older hangars on its west side. That would make way for new hangars to store larger general aviation aircraft, Riesinger said.
General aviation runs the gamut from one-seat aircraft to large corporate jets, Riesinger said. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association defines it as “all civilian flying except scheduled passenger airlines.”
The project follows an increase in the number of aircraft registrations in North Dakota in recent years. In 2004, it sat at 1,568 registrations, which grew to 2,019 in 2014, according to numbers provided by Kyle Wanner, director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.
“All of the airports we visit with, one of the first things they say is that they need more hangars,” Wanner said. That’s driven by a number of factors, including a shrinking number of private airstrips and more people learning how to fly, he said.
Riesinger said the economy in North Dakota has been strong thanks in large part to the oil boom in western North Dakota, resulting in companies showing more interest in using the airport. The oil industry slowdown has dampened that, he acknowledged.
“You have to plan for the future, and these projects do take some time in order to develop and construct,” Riesinger said. “We believe it’s a sound plan, and it’s in line with our past airport layout plan and master plan, so we felt it was important to keep the project moving to allow for that sort of development when those needs become available.”
The Grand Forks airport received a Federal Aviation Administration grant worth $1,732,447 for the project, along with $274,432 from the state of North Dakota. The airport’s share is $104,140, Riesinger said.
That money doesn’t cover costs of building future hangars. The airport may construct its own hangars and then rent them out or allow other groups to build facilities.
Riesinger said the taxi lanes and road may not be completed until next year because above-average rainfall has delayed work. He added the airport will reach out to tenants as part of its master plan process to discuss plans for future general aviation development and collect feedback.
“Some may be interested in relocating into the new hangars, and some may not,” Riesinger said. “And that’s kind of what we have to sort our way through going forward.”
But the airport is committed to seeing the project through, Riesinger said, adding it’s a “pretty high priority.”
“We want to be a full-service airport, not just for commercial passengers or just for UND, but for the full segment of aviation,” he said.