FAIRMONT – The Fairmont Municipal Airport is seeing a lot of arrivals and departures. In fact, airport manager Lee Steinkamp said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that Fairmont Airport sees about 10,000 operations a year, which includes takeoffs and landings.
Steinkamp has been the airport manager for nearly 10 years. He is the only full-time employee at the airport, which the city owns along with its equipment and buildings.
While Fairmont’s is the only airport in Martin County, the nearby communities of Blue Earth, Jackson, Estherville and St. James have airports. However, Steinkamp said the closest comparable size to the Fairmont can be found in Worthington or Albert Lea.
Steinkamp shared that Fairmont has had an airport since the 1920s and that it has been at its current location, along Blue Earth Avenue, since the early 1950s.
“This building we’re in now was built in 1985.” he said.
At nearly 40 years old, some features of the building are outdated, but like a jail or fire station, some aspects of the building must be kept up to code.
“There was an airline from the late 1950s to the 1990s. This is designed to accommodate passengers more efficiently,” Steinkamp said of the current building, which still has a baggage terminal.
“Many of the routes were heavily subsidized by the government and they said that some towns should have passenger services,” Steinkamp explained.
He also talked about the Essential Air Service program, which was put in place to ensure that smaller communities served by certified air carriers could maintain a minimum level of scheduled air service.
“The route that went through here went through Minneapolis, Mankato, Fairmont, Worthington, Sioux Falls and then back. They’ll pick up one or two passengers here and a few in Worthington, and then people can make connections in Sioux Falls or Minneapolis after that.” Steinkamp said.
Of course, a lot has changed in the last few decades with the way people travel and therefore with the purpose of the airport now. Along with this, many things are outdated that need to be addressed.
Steinkamp said back in 2015, an infrastructure report identified a number of issues with the terminal’s HVAC and exterior that were slowly being addressed.
“We have made updates to the heating and air conditioning of this building. We replaced the sidewalk last summer and made it ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.” he said.
He said they are also addressing some building maintenance and efficiency issues, which includes updating all lights to LEDs.
About two years ago, the city of Fairmont also underwent a facilities assessment, and the airport was one of the buildings looked at. As part of the process, Wold Architect and Engineers presented updates to the city council, which could be done in stages.
Steinkamp said some of the work has been delayed for budgetary reasons.
“The building works the way it works now. It would be nice to have new carpet and paint and update everything, but a lot of those dollars will have to be allocated to things like track surface maintenance and lighting maintenance.” he said.
He hopes to make more cosmetic updates next year, but still has plans this fall to remove some trees on the property. Steinkamp said that although it may not look like it, the trees are an obstacle that must be overcome as the ends of the track must be clear.
In addition to receiving money from the city, the airport also receives federal and state funds for maintenance.
“We are currently in the process of updating the airport plan. This is a document and plan for our current facilities and what our plan is for the future,” Steinkamp said.
He explained that the plan is required by the FAA and it is recommended that the plan be updated every 10 to 15 years. Fairmont’s plan was made in 2010 and is therefore currently under consideration. A consultant, KLJ Engineering, drew up the plan and worked on the update, as the firm specializes in aviation planning and construction.
He stressed that it is nice to maintain the appearance of the facility because it is a good economic driver not only for Fairmont but for the surrounding communities, but also because there are regulations that need to be kept up to date, such as runways, approaches and lighting.
One of the buildings on site has several pieces of necessary snow removal and mowing equipment.
“With the government money we get for maintenance and operations, we have to keep at least one runway open in the winter. We have to break it in time,” Steinkamp said.
They contract with a person who uses the city’s snow gear, which stays at the airport but is brought to the city show for maintenance when needed.
Steinkamp’s office window overlooks the airport’s two runways. The main is just over a mile long and the cross track is 3,300 feet long. Every day several operations are performed on each of them. Some are people flying for pleasure and others for business.
“If you name the market sector of the business, it has probably been here. There was banking, manufacturing, sales, agriculture, healthcare, the list goes on.” Steinkamp said.
Some local businesses, such as Kahler Automation, keep aircraft at the airport and have several pilots on staff and can bring employees to airports and communities throughout the Midwest for business reasons.
“They can haul equipment and two or three people and get to a destination in two hours where it would take eight hours to drive.” Steinkamp said.
People flying by plane can use the airport shuttle to go to town, to a meeting or to do whatever they need to do. Car dealerships in the city will also allow rental cars.
Currently, 33 aircraft are stored at the airport. There are 30 individual T hangers, a larger private hangar and a large community hangar. Steinkamp said there is only one T hangar spot open.
“They all fly pretty regularly,” he said.
Steinkamp acknowledged that the wider community probably only comes to the airport once a year during the annual Lion Club Fly-In breakfast, which draws several hundred people, and he’s happy for the airport’s exposure.
“It’s a community asset, a business asset,” he said.
Among such events, he was welcomed to Fairmont High School’s flight principles class, who came to tour the airport.
“I like talking to classes and people about the airport and flying, so anyone who wants to can come out.” Steinkamp said.