By Jill Schramm/MDN Reprinted with permission from The Minot Daily News
Minot’s new airport director said she wants to use her diverse experiences in aviation management to enhance the activity at Minot International Airport.
Jennifer Eckman stepped into her new position Oct. 4.
She previously had served since January 2019 as project manager of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aviation Systems Test Site in Grand Forks. Working in the drone industry in Grand Forks exposed her to a different world of aviation.
“The concepts and the technologies that enable flying a drone were all pretty new to me. There’s a whole new list of acronyms I had to learn, which in the world of aviation, that’s amazing that there were more acronyms,” she laughed. “I’m hoping with my connections with the Northern Plains that we can bring some of those technologies that I was working on here to this airport.”
She said there are areas on airport property suitable for growing a UAS business.
“Actually, we have some of the infrastructure already, where certain types of drones we could already handle,” she said.
Eckman sees potential for more robust industrial or commercial operations at the airfield. She would like to be involved in diversifying the businesses and opportunities at the airport as well as in developing the airline services and increasing passenger traffic as COVID-19 concerns ease.
“Obviously, the passenger ridership has been down, but we’re starting to see us come back to the 2019 numbers — slowly, but we’re hoping to get there. With the borders opening soon, I’m hoping and anticipating that we might be getting close to what we were in 2019 by the end of the year,” Eckman said.
She added that airlines have been maintaining their flights and plan to add a few additional flights over the holidays.
Eckman said she’s optimistic about the aviation industry, having witnessed its resiliency in the rebound from the 9-11 terrorist attacks and the Y2K transition to a new century in the year 2000.
A Bismarck native, Eckman said she grew up wanting to be an astronaut. Her career goal adjusted after enrolling in the University of North Dakota’s aviation program.
“I really enjoyed my airport management classes, and I switched degrees to airport management,” she said.
She did get a private pilot’s license, although she hasn’t done much flying.“My passion is more in the airport management side,” she said.
It was that passion that drew her to Minot.
“I loved my job at the Northern Plains, but I really missed airports. I’ve been working in airports for almost 20 years,” Eckman said. “I have a diverse knowledge of different airports and how they run because I’ve worked at quite a few of them, from interning at something as large as Minneapolis/St. Paul to a smaller airport like Jamestown, North Dakota.”
She previously had been airport manager in Jamestown, the deputy airport director for finance and administration in Rapid City, S.D., and the airport administrative assistant and airport real estate specialist at Paine Field/Snohomish County Airport in Everett, Washington.
Eckman earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a major in airport management, from UND in May 1999 and a master’s of fine arts from California State University-Long Beach in May 2004. She is working toward a master’s in business administration. She also has completed the Accredited Airport Executive program.
Her husband, a contractor with Boeing, and children will be moving from Grand Forks to Minot later this year when an opportune time in the school year presents itself. The family enjoys biking and hiking and looks forward to getting outdoors in Minot.
Eckman also expects to be busy on airport projects that require attention, whether it is preparing for winter snow removal or next year’s wetland mitigation projects.
Her initial weeks on the job have been spent getting to know the airport’s personnel and tenants. Eckman said the chance to work in a beautiful terminal with a great staff has made for a good start. “The team is really great at what they do, and I’m hoping to enhance it to the next level,” she said. “There’s some processes that I’ve seen implemented at other airports that I’m trying to implement here to get us to the next level, to be the best airport we can be.”