The remodeling of the fueling office at Minot International Airport is part of Minot Aero Center's plan to make Minot a premier stop for private aviation travelers.
Minot Aero Center, owned by Warren Pietsch and Brian Sturm, began remodeling after assuming lease of the city's general aviation building and fueling facilities on Jan. 1. The Minot City Council awarded a contract to the company last year to take over fueling operations at the airport.
"It's been a busy month," Pietsch said. "It went good. I think our customers were real happy, but we were very busy making sure they were happy."
Tim Nielsen, a Minot Aero Center employee, places a floor tile Monday in the remodeling of the general aviation building at Minot International Airport.
The city contract not only hands Minot Aero Center fueling responsibilities, but it gives the company a chance to better cater to pilots and promote the airport, he said. To do so requires extensive updating of the building that serves general aviation traffic at the airport.
The building did have a pilot's lounge, but after the remodeling, there will be passenger and pilot lounges and a quiet room for pilots to rest. People will be able to watch television or enjoy the two 400-gallon aquariums.
There will be a new conference room and a vending/dining area. The windowed space used by city staff for monitoring airport traffic won't just be for employees anymore. Pietsch said it is being remodeled to provide an observation area for visitors. Even the parking lot configuration is scheduled for improvement.
The project is set for a tentative May 21 grand opening.
Having an upscale facility will encourage more travelers to stop in Minot, which is ideally situated on the global flight circle, Pietsch said. Because of the way the Earth curves, the shortest route from Point A to Point B, whether flying from Asia or Europe across the United States, brings pilots on a flight path over Minot.
That's not the only reason to stop, Pietsch said. As a small airport, Minot Aero Center can offer reasonably priced, fast service.
"That's what people are looking for is inexpensive fuel and in and out quickly," Pietsch said.
Pietsch recently promoted the airport at a conference of aviation schedulers and dispatchers who work with corporate airlines. Those contacts already have resulted in the routing of five planes through Minot.
"I expect to increase our business considerably," Pietsch said.
Minot Aero Center hired 10 employees at the fueling office. An additional person was added to the existing staff of airplane maintenance mechanics at Pietsch Aircraft Restoration & Repair.
"We have a great crew," Pietsch said. "They have a lot of aviation experience behind them."
Along with aviation experience, the company chose employees who would reflect the values and philosophies that build a loyal customer base.
"We want them to carry our personality out there and care for the customer the way we want them cared for," Pietsch said.
Pietsch and Sturm, both pilots, have offered aviation services at the airport previously. The Pietsch family has a long history in Minot aviation. Pietsch Aircraft Restoration & Repair has been providing fixed-base operator services, such as a hangar and mechanics. By adding fueling, there will be a seamless connection of available services for pilots, Pietsch said.
Getting the fueling contract hadn't been easy for Minot Aero Center, though.
The city's decision in 2008 to privatize fueling was controversial because fuel sales have generated income for operation of the airport. Nearly all other airports have private fuel operators, and Pietsch had informed the city council that he couldn't continue providing aviation services at the airport without income from fuel sales.
Wanting to keep a strong fixed-base operator, the council voted to put fuel sales out on bids. They gave the contract to a Grand Forks firm with the stipulation that the company also provide other fixed-base aviation services. About 10 months later, the firm withdrew without ever starting an operation in Minot. The city awarded the contract to Pietsch, who until then had been planning to set up his own fuel farm at the airport.
Minot Aero Center bought the city's fueling trucks and fuel inventory. In addition, the company acquired plane deicing equipment and is considering construction of a 15,000-square-foot hangar next summer. Pietsch said his existing 12,000-square foot hangar is starting to run out of room so another facility is likely to be necessary in a few years.
Locally-based charter flights is another service that could come in the future. For now, Pietsch said, the Minot Aero Center is adequately handling demand by bringing in planes as needed from Capital City Air in Pierre, S.D.