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Air infrastructure on the minds of lawmakers entering session

The departures entrance to the Rapid City Regional Airport.
Rapid City Regional Airport
The departures entrance to the Rapid City Regional Airport.

Some lawmakers have a pin in South Dakota’s air infrastructure for the upcoming legislative session. With only two weeks until takeoff in Pierre, airport leaders are getting their requests in order.

Major renovations are planned at Rapid City Regional Airport, but it’s essential to remember that air infrastructure isn’t the sole responsibility of federal government.

RC Regional director Patrick Dame explained the funding gaps.

“There’s gotta be a mechanism to help fund the difference between what we get federally and what we get locally," Dame said. "The other side of it is if you’re talking about a runway at an airport, the (Federal Aviation Administration) FAA typically will fund about 90% of that project, so 5% state, 5% local on the project. When you look at a terminal there’s space, they consider that ineligible for federal funding.”

The projects at RC Regional mostly focus on ‘behind-the-scenes’ efficiencies in baggage and TSA services. With those in mind, Dame said he wants lawmakers to remember the value of a functional airport.

“Right now, there’s two airports that make up about 95% of the total air service of the state," Dame said. "The magnitude of the two (Rapid City Regional) projects really become state assets much like the state highway system in being able to provide that access corridor to, in this case, western South Dakota and our tourism market.”

That market is huge to South Dakota’s economy, and Dame said it could become even bigger if the state looks beyond road trippers.

“There is a stronger economic impact for those people that come in on an airline versus the person who comes in from a car," Dame said. "If you come in on a car you tend to have more resources with you, when you land on an airplane you have what’s in your suitcase and what’s on your person. They tend to eat out more, they tend to go to hotels, they’re not in an RV.”

Further, as tourism demand grows for the destination Black Hills, allocated federal dollars have not kept pace with the day-to-day needs of the airport.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture