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Clear Skies for South Dakota’s Second Largest Airport? Maybe Not.

Rapid City Regional Airport is hurting. Among the many industries stifled by COVID 19, according to Tom Johnson, CEO of Elevate Rapid City in a recent Economic Indicator Report, our air travel is following the national trend. Some estimate down 50% or greater in our state. While this is to be anticipated due to continued health and travel concerns, South Dakota should still be poised to make proactive decisions on behalf of our airports. As a rural state, we rely heavily on our transportation system for economic development, tourism, and healthcare. Our airports can't be neglected.

Here are some of the high spots for Rapid City Regional Airport:

  • Dilapidated hangars- built in the 1950s, the majority aren't up to new code and can't store multiple aircraft

  • Significant improvements are needed- removal of existing taxi lines, water main replacement, additional sewer mains, install fire hydrants, regrade the area, construct a new access road, and add the required replacement taxi line pavement.

  • State investment sought: $3 million.

Can this funding come from the FAA? Not entirely. Rapid City Regional Airport ranks low on the priority list, and competition for funding will only increase post-COVID. These projects will not be completed without state funds.

Decision-makers can lend additional consideration to establishing a fund for Air Service Marketing, Route Restoration, and Route Development. Airports across the country, including those in South Dakota, have received CARES Act funds to assist with current operations and maintenance costs. CARES Act funds help offset operational losses and retain employees; however, it is a short-term solution. To regenerate future revenues, we must plan now to support rebuilding our air service markets, restoring routes, and developing new ones. We need to bolster the airlines now so that we're ready when the passengers are. The state investment desired would be $4,300,000.

There are many opportunities this year for South Dakota to invest in our success. Allocating one time funds into infrastructure for Rapid City Regional Airport, rebuilding air service markets, restoring previous routes, and developing new ones are excellent examples of how we can continue to support our economic development and remain vitally connected to the rest of the country.

Senator Jessica Castleberry is the Vice Chair of the South Dakota Senate Transportation Committee. She represents District 35 in South Dakota which includes Rapid Valley, Box Elder, and northeastern Rapid City.

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