Filling in as Minot's airport director is a familiar role for J.D. Karhoff.
The airport's operations manager is serving as interim director until newly hired Andrew Solsvig arrives from Nevada at the end of the month. Karhoff previously covered the position when the airport transitioned between long-time director Michael Ryan and Patrick Dame about two years ago.
Karhoff will be glad to hand over the director's job to Solsvig. He's not aspired to the "hot seat," as he calls it, but prefers to work behind the scenes to keep airport operations running smoothly. He hopes to tame the pressing matters weighing on the airport before Solsvig arrives so that the new director can take his job advice to "ease into it."
Jill Schramm/MDN •
J.D. Karhoff stands June 10 next to framed photos of the B-52 landing at Minot International Airport of February 2008.
"Hopefully, we will have a lot of the issues not fixed but have a good handle on a lot of them before the end of the month," he said.
Dame, who now is airport director in Grand Forks, doesn't question that Karhoff will accomplish that goal. He said Karhoff's ability to get things done is a testament to his dedication.
"J.D. works very hard," he said. "That was always an asset for me to have someone that is as dedicated as he is."
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Karhoff currently has much on his plate with a commercial terminal remodeling project, construction of new lighting on the airfield, plans to replace a secure-access system and negotiations on a possible contract for privatizing fueling at the airport. That's on top of his duties as the airport's head of security and supervisor of grounds and building maintenance.
In the middle of such a busy time, Karhoff isn't forgetting about the flowers. He had bulbs in his office last week that were ready to plant. The little garden plot in front of the general aviation terminal is his project, and he's as comfortable talking about marigolds as he is about Embraers and Gulfstreams. Maybe more so.
His love for gardening came from his mother, he said. His interest in engineering came from his father, who had been a county engineer and surveyor.
A native of Burlington, Karhoff obtained a math degree from Minot State University in 1972. He studied engineering along the way and when not teaching and coaching, he was working construction or assisting engineering firms. Karhoff taught in Granville until 1976. He returned to the classroom in 1990-91 in Carpio.
In 1996, he brought his skills in engineering and construction to the City of Minot Public Works Department. The next year, he transferred to the airport.
"I didn't have a whole lot of previous knowledge of airport business or aircraft," he said. "It was a learning experience."
Karhoff became certified in airport safety and operations in 1998 through the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA also certifies airports. It's Karhoff's responsibility to help ensure that the airport complies with government rules and maintains the airfield in tip-top shape for the safety of the aircraft.
Karhoff's job changed again after Sept. 11, 2001. Security measures quadrupled at airports after the terrorist attacks, he said.
As security officer, Karhoff oversees the screening and training process for airport employees and others who require airport access, such as pilots. The screening is conducted by federal agencies, but getting fingerprints and badging are local operations. Thirteen city employees work at the airport, and another 20 to 25 people work for Mesaba, which provides Northwest Airlines ground services.
The Transportation Security Administration employs additional personnel but handles its own training.
For its size, Minot's airport always has been an active place, Karhoff said. It doesn't typically see huge aircraft on the runway, but it happened last year when aircraft navigation malfunctions and deteriorating weather forced an Air Force B-52 bomber en route from Louisiana to Minot Air Force Base to make an emergency landing in Minot.
"Someone called me about midnight," Karhoff recalled. "I thought I was dreaming for a while."
But when he arrived at the airport in the early hours of Feb. 22, 2008, there was the B-52 and Air Force personnel all around. The plane had landed and later took off without incident, Karhoff said.
"It was kind of fun in a way. It was good to see everything went so well," he said.
The biggest concern wasn't the length of the landing strip but the strength of the runway and taxiway in holding such a large plane. Its wingspan might have clipped runway signs and lights had the aircraft been carrying a heavier load, Karhoff said.
Another challenge came this past winter with near-record snowfall. Karhoff said snow-removal operations were almost constant.
Just as demanding as snow removal is the friction testing that the airport crew must conduct on the runways in the winter to determine how much traction planes are going to get for landing or take-off. Northwest Airlines has come to want frequent monitoring of those runway conditions, Karhoff said. If braking conditions aren't right, crews must sand or use other measures, such as expensive wetting agents, to correct the problem or Northwest won't land.
Karhoff's job gets him outdoors to conduct friction tests, run a snow loader or just check on the airfield. Still, much of the job is paperwork, meetings and working with engineers, consultants and federal officials.
He also fields the occasional call from a Northwest customer about a flight schedule or baggage problem. That's not his job, but Karhoff is used to filling in when needed, whether it's directing airline customers to the right places or serving as interim director.