Building the better airport — UND’s Kenville knows

Aviation professor regularly produces research in ongoing series for National Academies of Sciences

Kim Kenville

UND Aviation Professor Kim Kenville teaches all of UND’s airport management classes, and she directs the airport management degree program (with curriculum that combines aviation-related courses and classes in the College of Business & Public Administration); that program was launched in 1968. Image courtesy of Juan Pedraza.

We all use them, some of us weekly or even daily.

But what do most us know about how airports work?

Kim Kenville knows—so much so that she regularly consults for several airports, and she has completed research for the airport industry funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Kenville, professor and former graduate program director, UND Department of Aviation, regularly produces research in an ongoing series published by the Airport Cooperative Research Program, a part of the National Academies of Sciences. Her department is part of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. Kim’s first ACRP research grant was in 2007.

“How airports are put together is not generally understood,” says Kenville, whose most recent research reports were published earlier this year. “They’re about a lot more than terminals and hangars.”

Local-federal dilemma

During WWII Congress decided that airports were a national defense issue and launched an ambitious program of airport construction across the country.

“In the 1940’s Congress allocated funds to build 500 airports,” Kenville said. “By the end of that project, the country actually built 986 public airports all over, including rural locations places such as Jamestown, ND, and Sioux Falls, SD.”

After the war, more than 500 airports were put out as surplus property.

“Cities and counties bought airports for $1 consideration, and took over those airports,” she said. “That’s how we got city and county government ownership of local airports that’s still in place today.”

One challenge that Kenville has researched is that, even though airports are nominally owned by local entities, the Federal Aviation Administration paid for the land, so activities on that land are largely FAA-controlled.

“The government often says ‘no’ to activities on airport land, while at same time telling those airports to be self-sustaining,” Kenville says.

“So the Airport Cooperative Research Program wants to support and publish work on timely operational problems—what’s happening now, versus theoretical,” Kenville said. “So the Program solicits yearly problem statements from airport managers and practitioners, and commissions research; it’s a competitive process.

Alumni abound

Kenville and academic collaborator Jim Smith from Florida have so far completed eight of these research projects together, with more on the way. Kenville’s research includes many subtopics relating to emergency management and airport operations. From employees coping with traumatic events, social media and airport emergencies, model mutual aid agreements, and funding industry aviation activities on airport property.

Kenville teaches all of UND’s airport management classes, and she directs the airport management degree program (with curriculum that combines aviation-related courses and classes in the College of Business & Public Administration); that program was launched in 1968.

“We are proud that many of our alumni are working at area airports,” Kenville said. For example, Grand Forks Airport manager Ryan Riesinger is a 1997 alum of the program; Darren Anderson, assistant director at Fargo Hector Airport, is a 1991 alum; and Greg Haug, a 1989 alum, has been the airport manager at the Bismarck Municipal Airport for more than 20 years.

“Airport managers use our research a lot,” Kenville said. “It’s practical research for them so they can actually use the information we produce—we often include extra information and case examples with appendices and worksheets. We get lots of good feedback from managers across the country, and I’m regularly invited to do presentations at airports, including the biggest ones.”

UND has one of just a handful of airport management degree programs, backed by a bachelors of business administration; and Kenville is one of only a few airport management PhDs in higher education around the country.

“We all know each other,” she said.

By Juan Pedraza, for the UND Office of the Vice President for Research & Economic Development