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A look back at 90 years of air travel in Rochester

A look back at 90 years of air travel in Rochester

Some of the most influential people of the modern world have seen the runway at Rochester International Airport. As you may remember, President Donald Trump was just there. Before him, Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan held tarmac rallies at RST.

Of course, between the presidents, kings, and other luminaries, there are ordinary people, too, all benefiting from the prescient gaze of William and Charles Mayo.

“I guess I could say I’ve seen some nationally and internationally famous people moving through here, but we just choose not to talk about it,” says John Reed, airport director. “That’s a very important aspect of the community as a whole. They just let people that are here for, more than likely, a pretty serious matter … they give them their privacy and respect.”

The airport traces its roots all the way back to Charles and William Mayo, who both saw air travel when they looked into the future.

“I think it’s pretty insightful on their part, considering the Wright brothers only flew in 1903,” says Reed. “It was cutting edge technology, and they needed an airport to help people get here. And so they took it upon themselves to build the first one.”

In 1928, the Mayo Foundation opened up an airstrip on 285 acres of land near where Mayo High School stands now. In 1929, Rochester Airport was dedicated and Northwest Airlines added it to their routes.

Aerial view of Rochester Airport, August 1931 / Courtesy History Center of Olmsted County

In 1940, pavement came to the runways, just in time for the Second World War, when the Army Air Corps trained there with gliders.

After the war, the City of Rochester acquired the airport, leaving the Rochester Airport Company to deal with its operations. It still operates under this system. Today, money made by the airport is deposited directly back to the municipality for airport infrastructure improvements.

“It’s not how most airports are run, that’s for sure. In most places, we would all be a governmental employee. I think that’s one of the refreshing things here is that we aren’t. It does allow us some flexibility,” says Reed.

In 1952, its name was changed to Lobb Field, but the moniker only lingered for a short time. By 1960, airplanes had gotten bigger and so had the city. A new location was selected just southwest of the city and opened up and named the Rochester Municipal Airport. In 1988, American Airlines began service to Chicago.

Fast-forward to 1995, when the airport added a U.S. Customs post and attained International status.

“It’s a point of pride to be an international airport, but also goes back to your base business,” says Reed.” Because of the clientele at Mayo Clinic, this status is essential. Some even arrive in their own aircraft, flying directly from their own country and clear U.S. Customs right at RST.”

“Not forcing that international client to stop somewhere else, make an additional stop, keeps Rochester on the map as being accessible to the world,” says Reed.

In 2005, the airport’s primary runway was lengthened from 7,533 feet to 9,034 feet — and things have only picked up since.

This year, thanks in a large part to the airport’s ‘Fly Local’ campaign, “We’ve had a historical high, 360,000 total passengers, more or less. That’s an absolute historical high for this airport,” explains Reed.

With 93 companies signed on and committed to flying local, the airport now has United Airlines service, Delta adding extra flights, and American Airlines increasing the size of aircraft they fly in and out of the city.

“As I look at airports and transportation in general, that’s the key to, I think, continued success by Mayo Clinic,” says Reed.

The brothers Mayo would likely agree.

Cover photo: Ford Tri-Motor Service from Rochester to Minneapolis, circa 1928 / Courtesy History Center of Olmsted County

Story published in partnership with:

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