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What’s Going On at Hector International Airport?

Shawn Dobberstein, has been the executive director of Hector International Airport for 25 years. Before that, he served as the assistant director for 7 years.

If you’ve lived in the area long enough you probably have had at least one visit to Hector International Airport. As a staple in our community for over 90 years, it’s quite exciting when we hear about updates and future projects on the way at Fargo’s gateway to the world. We caught up with Shawn Dobberstein to find out what’s new and upcoming for our city’s airport.

Shawn Dobberstein has been in his position of executive director for the airport since 1997. He is preparing for some big projects for the airport’s future. The most recent announcement from the airport explained that they were changing operational support provided by the city for various services such as payroll, human resources, IT and finance. Shawn described it as an internal change.

“The relationship with the city still continues on as it has since the Airport Authority was created back in April of 1969, it’s just internal operations support. The airport authority has always been an independent political subdivision under the state statute, that’s no change, just like a school district or park district,” he explained. “It’s just that we have been paying the city to get access to some services that we’re doing on our own as of January 1, 2022.”

The airport has contracted with a business to provide payroll, benefits and human resources services. They have also engaged a firm to assist with financial accounting and reporting oversight.

Looking into the long term for the airport, some of the projects expected in the coming years are the biggest the airport has seen yet. One of the largest (possible projects) is a terminal expansion.

“A terminal expansion study is underway that started just a few months ago. We hope to have that completed this fall. There’s a team led by Mead & Hunt, an engineering firm, that is going through and evaluating the current terminal and the capacity, along with what we can justify for an addition to the terminal,” Shawn said.

Their hopes are to create enough space for four more boarding bridges in addition to the five they have now, as well as additional food and beverage services, additional restrooms, a pet relief area, and more seating space in the departure lounge to meet the demand at the airport.

Right now nothing is confirmed as to what kind of food and beverage options will be added, but they are looking into repurposing and adding a restaurant to the area by gates one and two and adding another coffee kiosk. Shawn said their provider is based in Sioux Falls and works with the airport there, where they feature Red Stone Pizza Company. They are considering additional bar and lounge space, but that depends on the amount of space they have to work with. 

This expansion would help operations in a few different ways. Many different airlines are constantly moving planes on and off the gates and if there is any type of delay, whether it be maintenance, weather or any other type of delay, it can throw off the operations of other flights needing a gate at that time. This would help improve the gate space capacities for more carriers who want to serve the Fargo market as well.  

Shawn said that the project could end up costing $60 to $65 million and isn’t predicted to break ground until late 2023 at the earliest due to the research, development and planning necessary. 

All of the concrete at the terminal building needs to be replaced, as it’s the original concrete from the airport’s terminal building that opened in 1986. The concrete is “past its useful life” according to Shawn. That project will be an additional $20 to $22 million.

Some other exciting projects on their way involve other areas of the airport. The apron adjacent to the previous passenger terminal that was vacated in 1985 will be getting new concrete and storm sewer. They want to add concrete to the north general aviation area adjacent to Fargo Jet Center as well.

“Another environmental project that we’re working on is to put in a force main up to the city’s lagoons, or treatment system, north of the airport,” Shawn said, “so we can treat glycol or de-icing fluid runoff that we collect and need to properly dispose of.”

“If you’ve been to the airport terminal building and you park your car in the pay parking lot, there are exit booths on the west side of the lot. Those are going to be replaced with brand new exit plazas on the south end of the parking lot,” he said.

The replacement of all of the parking, access and revenue control systems is 90% complete, so next time you enter the parking lot you’ll get your permit from equipment that was replaced just in December. The security system is in the works to be replaced as well. A new equipment building was just completed to store the large equipment used to keep the runways, taxiways and aprons open for use. 

With all of these projects coming up you might be thinking… what do I even know about the airport? No problem, Shawn filled us in.

What is the Airport Authority?

Created April 8, 1969, the Airport Authority has a five-member board, each member is selected by the mayor and serves as many five-year terms as the mayor desires. They oversee the development of the airport to meet the aviation needs of the community and surrounding region. Including infrastructure projects like the ones above!

Hector International Aiport is 100% self-sufficient!

They received $2 million dollars from the City of Fargo to go towards capital improvements, but no Fargo taxpayer money goes towards the day to-day operations. They make revenue through their parking lot, car rental, landing fees, terminal rents from airlines, a percentage of gross revenue agreements with places like the Fargo Jet Center, their restaurant and gift shop, and even through their farmland!

Is everything “air” connected in Fargo?

Kind of. Hector International Aiport is like a “landlord” for a few of the spaces rented around Fargo, including the Fargo Air Museum, the North Dakota Air National Guard and Army National Guard, and the Fargo Jet Center, as well as things part of the airport like car rental agencies, each airline, TSA, the Federal Aviation Administration are all tenants. How big is the team? Even with the impact and area the airport has, there are only 27 full-time employees and a few part-time seasonal and year-round employees for building operations, custodial services, airfield maintenance, and mechanics. 10 of those employees are the airport’s own fire department! Who does the airport serve? Hector International Airport doesn’t just offer passenger services, they are one of the largest cargo airports in the region. They have a 24/7 air traffic control tower, 24/7 international customs (hence, Hector “International” Airport since they don’t have any direct international flights), and they even have flights on their way to Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, and more stop in Fargo to refuel or wait out bad weather if they run into it.

How big is the team?

Even with the impact and area the airport has, there are only 27 full-time employees and a few part-time seasonal and year-round employees for building operations, custodial services, airfield maintenance, and mechanics. 10 of those employees are the airport’s own fire department!

Who does the airport serve?

Hector International Airport doesn’t just offer passenger services, they are one of the largest cargo airports in the region. They have a 24/7 air traffic control tower, 24/7 international customs (hence, Hector “International” Airport since they don’t have any direct international flights), and they even have flights on their way to Dallas, Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis, Nashville, Phoenix/Mesa, Orlando, Los Angeles and Tampa/Clearwater. Some of the routes are seasonal. There are also monthly casino flights to places like Laughlin, NV. A number of airlines and corporate aircraft stop in Fargo to clear Customs,  refuel or wait out bad weather if they run into it. Sometimes there are medical emergencies aboard aircraft operating in the vicinity of  Fargo that divert to Hector International Airport.

What about the military?

Hector International Airport also allows military remotely piloted aircraft into their traffic patterns. They are one of the only two airports in the entire country that allow these military aviation components, the second being Syracuse Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, New York.

“We don’t look at city boundaries or county boundaries,” Shawn said. “We serve a massive region throughout a 100 plus mile radius, and probably further because of Allegiant and Frontier [airlines], all the way up to the Canadian border, down into South Dakota and big swaths of West Central and Northwest Minnesota.”

For updates on Hector International Airport projects follow fargoairport on Facebook, or keep an eye out at www.fargoairport.com

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Written by Geneva Nodland

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