Airport of the Month project Spotlight
Rochester International Airport - Runway 2/20 Improvements
September 1, 2020
More than 375,000 passengers pass through Rochester International Airport in a year, second in Minnesota only to MSP.
Lots of those passengers are heading for the famous Mayo Clinic. American, Delta and United Airlines provide scheduled service. Spotting a wide body airliner with Arabic writing is not unusual.
There's also a lot of General Aviation traffic. The airport averages over 50,000 annual control tower operations and is home to 65 aircraft. This is a busy place.
Runway 13/31 is just over 9000 feet long and equipped with an Instrument Landing System (ILS) in both directions. The secondary runway (2/20) has a length of 7300 feet. Both runways are 150 feet wide. The pavement on runway 2/20 needs replacement, and more operational flexibility is highly desirable. A six-year project will renew the pavement and provide the airport with an improved secondary runway option. Runway 2/20 and the attendant parallel taxiway will be extended, all the existing pavement will be replaced, and it will become a second ILS runway complete with an approach lighting system on runway 2.
Improvements to the Runway 31 ILS approach are also being contemplated which would very much improve landing reliability for aircraft with the necessary equipment and crew qualifications.
Sound expensive? $80 million is the current estimate. Funding is in progress, but $63 million from the FAA plus $11.4 million from the State is the hoped-for budget.
Aviation in Rochester has always been connected to the Mayo brothers and their clinic. In 1928 the first airport opened and was operated by the Rochester Airport Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the clinic. Service was provided by Northwest Airlines using Ford Trimotors.
In 1940 the runways were paved, and later service expanded to include Braniff, North Central and Ozark Airlines. It was a good airport, but right next to town. Jets were coming and land around it was precious. In 1961 service began at the current location.
Although the patients brought to Rochester by GA are a small percentage of the total, they are often the most urgent and arrive by air ambulance. Andrew Neuman operated a flying service at Rochester for many years. He pioneered the use of small aircraft for ambulance work and had a sterling reputation at the Mayo for providing patients with comfortable and safe flights. Mr. Neuman was a 1997 Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame inductee.
George Head built a tavern on the Zumbro River in 1854, naming the place after his hometown in upstate New York. The first Dr. Mayo showed up nine years later to do induction physicals for union draftees. If you don't need medical attention, there are plenty of other things to do in Rochester. Mr. Head's tradition of good food and drink continue. The city has an active arts community including an internationally famous symphony. The goose population on the river is entertaining and gives the local baseball team the name "Honkers." Rochester probably has more doctors per square mile than anyplace on earth, so there's lots of golf (and Bonanzas at the airport).
Phasing plans for the runway project are intended to minimize disruption to traffic, so flying to Rochester should still be an easy proposition.