At first glance, a runway and taxiway reconstruction/extension project at a busy general aviation airport should be pretty straightforward, right? Several similar projects occur every year throughout the country, and while the finished product may appear to be a standard outcome, each project has unique challenges to overcome to arrive at a successful completion. The recently-completed multi-year/multi-phased airfield development project at the Detroit Lakes Becker County Airport (DTL) was no exception. As Project Coordinator for this invaluable project, I was recently asked to contribute to an article in Airport Improvement Magazine discussing some of the project challenges and benefits.
Because the airport resides in the middle of the state’s lakes region, tourism plays a big role in the area’s economy. To encourage more visitors, DTL needed to expand the length of its primary runway to facilitate more private and business jet operations. The challenge was how to fit a 5,200-foot runway on a site bordered to the north by US Hwy 10 and a very busy railroad line, and bordered to the south by the city waste water treatment facility (WWTF). The southern border of the airport boundary was further restricted by a county road, as well as a wetland area connected to several nearby lakes.
The success of this project can be attributed to extensive planning and stakeholder coordination in the early game, and once there was consensus among all stakeholders on the path forward, setting realistic goals and milestones while paying close attention to details. Projects of this magnitude typically don’t happen in a single construction season due to operational and funding constraints. They should be viewed as a marathon rather than a sprint—they require careful planning and management of expectations to lead to a successful outcome.
Despite the additional impacts brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was opened for traffic by late summer 2020—right on schedule with the target completion date determined three years prior. Additionally, the city was able to capitalize on several funding windfalls, significantly reducing the sponsor share of the overall cost for this project.
As the community emerges from the effects of the pandemic, the successful expansion of the Detroit Lakes Becker County Airport provides a much-needed modernization that will help boost the local economy and provide an invaluable investment in the community.