The Minnesota Airports Conference rotates each year, from northern to southern Minnesota, and all places in between. This year the conference will be held in the city known best for the “Mayo Clinic” in Rochester, Minnesota in the southeastern part of the state.
Hosting the conference is Rochester International Airport, which can trace its beginnings to the early days of aviation and to no surprise, to the Mayo Clinic. In 1927, brothers and doctors William and Charles Mayo realized the advantage of providing air transportation to the rapidly growing clinic. The brothers approached the City of Rochester with the idea of building an airport to support the growing community and the patients traveling to Rochester. The city declined to build an airport, citing financial concerns. Being true visionaries and businessmen, the Mayo brothers then took it upon themselves and the Mayo Foundation to build Rochester’s first airport, and in 1928, the Rochester Airport opened for operations in the southeast portion of the city. One year later, the Mayo Foundation created the Rochester Airport Company for the sole purpose of managing and operating the airport.
During the mid-1940s, the federal government began providing grant funding to publicly owned and operated airports for capital improvements, but since Rochester Airport was privately owned and operated, the airport was not eligible. To ensure continued growth and development of the airport, the Mayo Foundation deeded the airport to the City of Rochester so that federal funding would be available for capital development. Finally realizing the benefits of the airport, the City of Rochester immediately entered into a long-term agreement with the Mayo Foundation and the Rochester Airport Company for continued operations and management of the airport.
In 1960, a new airport was built approximately 8 miles southwest of downtown Rochester and renamed Rochester Municipal Airport. This new airport, with a primary runway (13/31) and a crosswind runway (02/20) would provide for continued aviation growth and development in the Rochester community. Over the last 50 years, the Rochester airport has continued to grow to support the aviation needs of Rochester and southeastern Minnesota, to include the addition of upper level concourses in the main terminal, extension of both runways, the addition of cargo facilities, the expansion of general aviation areas, and the construction of business and industrial parks on the airport campus. In 1995, Rochester Municipal Airport was designated Rochester International Airport due to the addition of U.S. Customs at the airport, enabling aircraft to fly direct to Rochester from any location in the world.
Today, Rochester International Airport (RST) is Minnesota’s second largest commercial service airport. Situated on 2,300 acres, Rochester International Airport, on average, accommodates over 40,000 aircraft operations and over 230,000 passengers annually. Rochester is fortunate to be served by two major air carriers, American Eagle and Delta Airlines, with 10 flights per day to Minneapolis and Chicago O’Hare. Rochester International Airport currently boasts a 9,300-foot primary, instrument (category I) approach runway, as well as a crosswind runway equipped with a VOR/GPS approach. Current discussions are underway to install a category II instrument landing system to increase the airport’s utility during severe winter weather.
Still operated and managed by the Rochester Airport Company, Rochester International Airport continues to grow to support the traveling needs of Rochester and surrounding communities. General aviation users will find a familiar name on the airfield in Signature Flight Support, which provides ground handling services, aircraft fueling, both Jet A and avgas, aircraft maintenance and storage, as well as a host of other services, including Starbucks coffee and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, both made fresh daily.
Federal Express operates at least one Boeing 757 operation to Rochester daily.
During the past 5 to 10 years on-airport development has included the addition of a hotel (AmericInn and Suites), a restaurant (formerly the 331 Bar and Grill), a daycare facility, the Rochester International Event Center, Paramark Property Management, and AgStar Financial Services, all located in the airport business park complex. Global Resolve, a waste management company, as well as Yellow Cab, have established a presence in the airport industrial park.
As part of its commitment to the community and region to continue development as needs change, the Rochester Airport Company is currently in the process of completing a benefit-cost analysis, environmental assessment, and terminal area study for the construction of a new terminal facility. The current facility has served the community well for over 50 years, but advances in technology, changes in airport security procedures, and the fact that only so much can be done to a building over half a century old, has suggested it is time to build a new terminal building. It is expected that construction on a new facility would begin within the next six to eight years.
The airport director is Steve Leqve. Kurt Claussen is the deputy airport director. Brian Thompson is airport operations director.
The Minnesota Airports Conference will be held April 11-13, 2012 at the Mayo Civic Center. For additional information, contact Judy Meyers at the Minnesota Office of Aeronautics at 651-234-7232, or John Puckropp of the Minnesota Council of Airports at 218-828-5049.