By Ryan Riesinger, Executive Director, Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority President, Airport Association of North Dakota
What do you want to be when you grow up? When there are so many possibilities, how are you supposed to know and find your way?
For me, it is fair to say I may not be where I am today if it was not for my dad. While it is not uncommon for parents to have a great influence on who their children will become, my dad opened my eyes to the excitement that is aviation. I grew up in the Twin Cities area and frequently on summer evenings we would end up at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport (MSP) to watch the planes takeoff and land from our parking spot on Post Road. My dad taught me how to tell the planes apart not just by their size, but by the location of the engines or the design of the tail. I found it amazing that something so large could even get off the ground.
When it came time to attend college fairs and choose where to go, my dad was influential. I attended one college fair and my dad said, “That’s where you should go.” Ultimately, I only toured that one university. In the fall of 1991, I packed up and moved to Grand Forks to pursue a degree in Airport Management at the University of North Dakota (UND).
I thoroughly enjoyed my years at UND. Each year seemed to become more interesting, as I advanced in the curriculum. I will never forget my first solo flight at GFK and when I received my private pilot license in the spring of 1993; I had a true sense of accomplishment. My professors stressed applying for internships, and through that I ultimately worked at three different airports before my graduation in the spring of 1996.
Twenty years later, I found myself driving back to Grand Forks to become the Executive Director at the Grand Forks Airport (GFK). When I graduated from UND, my goal was to become a Director of an airport someday, somewhere. However, I did not know when or where that would be. What I know now is that for those 20 years, working in progressively more responsible positions at airports in Worthington, MN (OTG), Madison, WI (MSN), and Saginaw, MI (MBS), I met many great people who shared the same passion for aviation. They helped immensely in the pursuit of my goal.
Aviation is filled with wonderful people, who are deeply passionate and giving of their time. If you are a student with an interest in aviation, I encourage you to take that aviation class in high school, attend an airshow, go to your local airport, and talk with the pilots or aircraft owners, or simply watch the planes takeoff and land with someone who shares your excitement. I am confident you will find your passion in this great industry.
Last month, I was elected to be the new President of the Airport Association of North Dakota (AAND). I am honored to be in this role and will do my best to represent our state’s airports. If you have any ideas or suggestions of how to make AAND or our airports better, please do not hesitate to contact me.