"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN
Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
Dubuque first airport, established by McBoyle's company, opened May 20, 1928 at NUTWOOD PARK on land the city leased from INTERSTATE POWER COMPANY. Among the "firsts" claimed that year was the flight of Lenore Roshek, the first woman in Dubuque to make a solo flight. (3) The site proved useful and entertaining with flying demonstrations by daredevils like Lincoln BEACHEY. The development of the airport was carried out with the help of William J. Mackenzie, airport specialist with the United States Department of Commerce, following an inspection of the site and a review of the vicinity. He made recommendations of a different location when air transportation demands made a change necessary. (34 The involvement of the Department of Commerce, ironically, threatened the appearance of the circus in 1930. The aeronautics branch of the Department issued a bulletin and map establishing the airport as accredited. With such status, however, came the requirement that the grounds could be used for nothing except airplanes. RINGLING BROTHERS AND BARNUM AND BAILEY had to find another site. (5)
The second lease was awarded to twelve young enthusiasts of DUBUQUE AIRWAYS INC. who operated the airport until 1934. (8) In the first year the field was opened, 42 Dubuque residents soloed at the field; 2,333 were given sightseeing tours; and 65 went on cross country trips. (9) Concerned about the condition of the field, the men hired Dewitt Collins as manager, instructor and pilot. The twelve businessmen purchased Collins' two-passenger, open cockpit Waco 90 before purchasing a four passenger Stinson Detroiter, known as "Miss Dubuque," for charter. A glider club was also planned. (10)
Nutwood Park proved a poor location for an airport. Surrounded on the east and west by hills, all landings had to be attempted from the north or south regardless of wind. High-tension telephone lines on the north and a swamp and tall smokestack on the south increased the danger. The facility had one runway, a 1,320-foot sod strip.
In 1933 the Dubuque City Council purchased 162 wild and woody acres of CITY ISLAND for $10,000. Unemployed men, recruited by the Civil Works Administration during the GREAT DEPRESSION, leveled trees, ripped out stumps and slashed away underbrush. After extensive grading, two runways, each 2,600 feet long and 100 feet wide, were constructed of MACADAM and cinder surface. The new airport was reached by a road linking the site to the foot of East 16th Street.
Business at the City Island airport was not brisk. Lewis Boxleiter, Collins' successor as airport manager, applied for a low-flying permit and inspected high transmission lines when foul weather prevented linemen from driving over snow-drifted roads. Each spring because of floods the planes had to be flown to high ground in Waterloo, Iowa, or Galena, Illinois. In 1938 sixty-four days of business at the City Island airport were lost due to flooding. The airport flooded from March 31 until April 17 in 1939. It was submerged again on April 28.
In 1939 Dubuque was visited by T.E. Flaherty, acting regional airport engineer for the Civil Aeronautics Administration. A solution to the flooding of the airport seemed urgent since Dubuque seemed likely be placed on an airmail and passenger route. Petitions for a Chicago (Illinois)-Cheyenne (Wyoming) route through Dubuque, Mason City and Sioux City had been filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Flaherty told city officials that other cities were quickly constructing suitable sites for airports realizing that being left off a route could doom a city's development. A $100 million appropriations bill to help cities construct airports was to be introduced in Congress. (11)
Flying around the Dubuque area in an airplane owned by the Telegraph Herald, Flaherty stated that the elimination of obstacles to landing was essential. Long runways were needed. He recommended that the city not be concerned with building an airport ten miles from the city. Travel time, he reminded them, was cut with automobiles and was only a concern within the city limits. (12) In 1939 a site six miles south of Dubuque was chosen and called temporarily Bradley Field.
Flying instruction began in earnest in January 1940, with the start of the Civilian Pilots Training Program. After the start of WORLD WAR II, operations at the airport were temporarily halted and city police were assigned to guard the site. (13) A new hangar was constructed. The navy's objection to the city's inadequate airport led the Chamber of Commerce to conduct a survey as a first step in establishing a first-class airport for the city.
In November 1942 voters authorized the city council to establish an annual levy not exceeding 3/4 of a mill for the purchase of a site in Table Mound Township for the development, maintenance, and operation of an airport. The city was assured of a Works Progress Administration grant for this construction. (14)
Following the election, however, all WPA activities were halted by presidential order. An estimated 80-100 people were affected by the closing of projects in the city. Some of these included women employed in clerical work, but the majority were men employed on county highway project. (15) CAA officials associated with the Navy flying program at LORAS COLLEGE had inspected the site and believed a CAA grant for the airport could be arranged. Acting on this, the city council authorized the mayor to appoint a committee from the council and other city officials to contact federal agencies regarding a grant. Land was purchased south of the city in March 1943, for the planned $2.5 million facility. City manager Albin Anton RHOMBERG, Fred W. WOODWARD of the TELEGRAPH HERALD, and Msgr. M. J. Martin, president of LORAS COLLEGE obtained a $600,000 appropriation from the Civil Aeronautics Administration for a class-4 airport after working with Senator Guy M. Gillette. (16)
In 1946 the two lowest bids for the airport runways were offered by the same company, S.J. Groves and Son of Minneapolis. One bid was for concrete and the other was for asphalt. When the board of directors of the Dubuque Chamber of Commerce found the difference was $5,356, it agreed to underwrite the difference so that the concrete could be obtained. (18)
Procedures to close the City Island airport began in August 1948. Airport manager Clifton P. OLESON was authorized by the city council to place a large "X" in the center of the landing strips indicating the official closing of the airport. The runways remained intact for two months to allow for emergency landings. Landings and takeoffs were not permitted after October 18, 1948. Gravel was taken from the runways and dirt was then removed for covering the 16th Street dump. (19) The Dubuque Municipal Airport south of the city was dedicated on October 24, 1948 with five jet-propelled p-80s participating in the airshow. Unofficial estimates of the number of private, commercial and military places on the field during the Sunday program at over 300. The crowd was estimated at between 22,000 and 24,000. (20)
The first terminal building was constructed in 1949. Dubuque residents voted to form an independent airport commission in a 1950 referendum.
In a little known aside to the opening of the new field, airport manager Oleson announced that Ben Arquitt, an operator at the new field, was scheduled to open a seaplane base at the Ice Harbor making Dubuque a complete terminal for water and land flying. (21)
In 1950 the council decided not to rename the airport. Consideration had been given to naming it in honor of former councilman Richard L. Wynes. The opinion of the city's attorney was that the federal government would not honor such a request. (22)
The needs of the Dubuque Municipal Airport to handle the traffic expected by 1970 was the subject of a report written in 1962 by the Airport Commission. Among the conclusions were that a control tower and new terminal building should be built in 1966 with gradual improvements of hangar facilities between 1964 and 1973. The study, carried out by Commonwealth Associates, Inc. of Jackson, Michigan, also recommended installing an instrument landing system in 1979 and approach lighting in 1972. The cost of the improvement program would be about $1.23 million with $683,500 provided by the federal government. The study was based on the idea that Dubuque would be serviced by two and possibly four airlines by 1978. In 1962 only Ozark Air Lines serviced the city. (23)
Ozark played a significant role in commercial airline service to Dubuque for years. In 1955 the airline provided Dubuque with its first commercial airline flight. The city's first jet flight was due to Ozark in 1961 and the first DC-9 twin engine jet flight came in 1967 with the main runway extended by 900 feet to accommodate the big planes. It ended in 1981 when Ozark, which had received about $1 million in federal subsidy, lost the aid. Dubuque was left with two commuter airlines linking the city to other airports. (24)
In 1968 the Dubuque City Council voted to issue $490,000 in bonds for the construction of a new terminal building. Dedicated in November, 1969 the building was four times the size of the original was expected to serve the community needs for 25 years. (25)
MISSISSIPPI VALLEY AIRLINES began its service to Dubuque in September 1971. This airlines was purchased in 1985 by Air Wisconsin which continued Dubuque service until September 1987 under the name United Express. Construction at the airport included a new air traffic control tower in November, 1973. PARKING METERS were installed in the lots in 1978. Two new hangars were constructed for its new fixed-base operator, Crescent Aviation, in 1983 and 1984. In the latter year a new hangar and offices were constructed for American Central Airlines. (26)
In December, 1984 the FAA grounded American Central for safety violations. The airline filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in July, 1985 leaving the city with payments on a $750,000 complex. (27)
On September 6, 1988, the name of the airport was changed from the Dubuque Municipal Airport to the Dubuque Regional Airport. This was done to more accurately describe the service area and serve as an aid in marketing. In that year the terminal, constructed in 1948, was given its first remodel. (28) In that year Simmons Airlines American Eagle replaced Air Wisconsin as the link to Chicago-O'Hare; Iowa Airways began service to Iowa in October, 1985 and added service to Chicago-Midway; Midwest Aviation began service to Minneapolis in January 1987; and Great Lakes Airlines began service to O'Hare on May 1st. (29)
Dubuque residents were encouraged in 1991 to express their opinions on the airport and its operation. A survey was included in an issue of the Telegraph Herald in late September that was part of a study of the airport by an Annandale, Virginia consulting firm that specialized in airport operation. The $20,000 study, paid for by the city, would determine whether officials would try to attract more airlines. In addition to the newspaper survey, 700 surveys were sent to area businesses. Passengers waiting for planes were contacted in waiting areas. (30)
The Dubuque airport received $945,000 in 1992. This was to fund a master plan and the construction of a facility to house the aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment and personnel, airport maintenance crews and storage of equipment and supplies. The city of Dubuque provided a ten percent match to the Federal Aviation Administration grant. (31)
On March 31, 1993 Dubuque Regional Airport Commission members complimented Crescent Aviation for providing fixed base operator services including fuel for airplanes and maintaining private planes for nine years. The council then, however, voted to turn the duties over to the city. The change was expected to save costs. (32)
In 1995 the airport commissioned a study which found that 48% of Dubuque travelers flew from out-of-town airports with nearly 25% of these using Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Stopping that "leakage" meant working with airlines to keep fares as low as possible and attempting to attract a third carrier into Dubuque. The latter effort was assisted by Senator Tom Harkin who attached added landing rights at O'Hare to a transportation appropriations bill. The Department of Transportation awarded the slots to Great Lakes Aviation, the parent company of UNITED EXPRESS AIRLINES which then chose to base an operation in Dubuque. This gave Dubuque service of American Eagle, Northwest AirLink, and United Express by April, 1997. (33)
Other changes included the primary runway repair in 1996 at a cost of $2.8 million. In 1997 the sign "Dubuque AirService" signified that the city was in charge of the airport's fixed-based operation. The city assumed control of the fueling and hangaring services in 1993 and in four years saved taxpayers an estimated $280,000. New construction during the 1990s included an aircraft rescue and fire fighting building, a fire-fighting vehicle, water wells, and underground fuel tanks. Officials anticipated in the near future a $14 million project to rehabilitate and extend the airport's secondary runway. Once construction was completed, this runway would become the airport's primary runway. This was due to it being better suited to the prevailing winds and the topography surrounding the airport making this runway a more direct path. (34)
The Dubuque Regional Airport received the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) “Airport Safety Enhancement Award” many times. In 1997 the airport held the nation's record with six consecutive years of perfect safety regulation compliance---two years ahead of any other city. In 2004 that record had reached fourteen consecutive years. In 2007 the City of Dubuque announced its intention to construct a larger terminal building, but no time line was given for the completion of the project.
In October, 2013 the building structure of the new Dubuque Regional Airport terminal was completed, but interior work remained. The project was funded in part by the Federal Aviation Administration through the Airport Improvement program trust fund which is created through taxes on passenger tickets and aviation fuel. The Iowa Department of Transportation provided funds collected through aircraft fuel tax and aircraft registration fees. The airport needed to provide $5.2 million of non-federal resources to match the federal grants and development elements not eligible for federal funding. This local portion is generated by passenger facility fees, customer facility charges and general revenue funds. (35) The first large capital improvement project for the airport in decades, the terminal building was only a portion of the changes planned for completion in late 2016.
The planned $39 million, 33,000 square-foot terminal tripled the space of the existing facility with a design that allowed for future expansion. Parking amenities, and airplane taxi spaces were also increased. (36)
In 2015 there were 51,172 FAA-sanctioned operations at the Dubuque Regional Airport making it the second-busiest airport in the state. (37)
The new airport terminal in May 2016 was six months ahead of schedule and $3 million under budget ahead of the June 9 grand opening. The 35,615-square-foot terminal cost $37 million with about 85% being paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration. The rest came from the City of Dubuque, airport revenues, and grants. The new terminal was three times larger than the older facility. (38)
In the first five months of 2017, the Dubuque Regional Airport had about 1,170 additional passengers boarding flights out of Dubuque compared to the same period in 2016. According to airport statistics, passenger numbers have steadily increased since 2013. This was attributed to more seating being made available by American Airlines, free airport terminal parking, and an improved terminal environment. (39)
Marketing money was of interest to council members at budget hearings in February, 2018. A proposal of $25,000 in addition to the $100,000 already budgeted for airport marketing would be used to promote the benefits of flying out of Dubuque. In addition to raising the airport's profile regionally, the money would help attract more flights to the airport. Airport Manager Robert Grierson reported that other airports were spending three to four times what Dubuque allocated. (40)
With an eye on providing for the requirements of 70 or more passenger aircraft, City Manager Michael VAN MILLIGEN recommended in 2019 that the City Council approve a $9,000 improvement package upgrading security at the airport. Connected to a database, the scanner would watch for anyone wanted for or found guilty of offenses making them considered too dangerous for air travel. The immediate expenditure would provide for a fingerprint scanner. Council member Luis Del Toro noted the lack of requests for additional funding for marketing. He pointed to officials of the GREATER DUBUQUE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION and the DUBUQUE AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE claiming that the airport had an unfortunate low profile in the community. (41)
1. "Dubuque Airport is Incorporated," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, May 30, 1928, p. 9. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=_apFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Gr0MAAAAIBAJ&pg=4427,5869836&dq=dubuque+airport&hl=en
2. Advantages of the Dubuque Airport Demonstrated," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, May 27, 1928, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=-qpFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Gr0MAAAAIBAJ&pg=4139,5360162&dq=dubuque+airport&hl=en
3. Swenson, Jim. "Taking Flight," Telegraph Herald, December 17, 2017 p.3C
4. "Dubuque Airport Finds Defender," Telegraph Herald, June 16, 1929, p. 24. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=nXlFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wrwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2521,5098485&dq=dubuque+airport&hl=en
5. "Circus Can't Show at Local Airport," Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal, July 22, 1930, p. 21
6. "Clear Snow From Dubuque Airport," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Feb. 19, 1929, p. 25. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=yolFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=sbwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3650,2171206&dq=dubuque+airport&hl=en
7. "Dubuque Airport is in New Hands," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Jan. 3, 1930, p. 10. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=9bNFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=P70MAAAAIBAJ&pg=5428,2896206&dq=dubuque+airport&hl=en
9. Simplot, John. "Dubuque 'Up in Air' Long Time," The Telegraph-Herald, December 6, 1953, p. 7
10. "Dubuque Airport is in New Hands,"
11. Goettler, William. "Engineer Offers Tips for Dubuque Airport," Telegraph Herald, May 28, 1939, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=XelBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FaoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4290,5491436&dq=dubuque+airport&hl=en
13. "Activities Resumed at Dubuque Airport," Telegraph Herald, Dec. 12, 1941, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=hFxFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ELwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3395,4180865&dq=dubuque+airport&hl=en
14. "End of WPA," Telegraph Herald, January 27, 1942, p. 2
15. "Discuss New Airport Here," Telegraph Herald, October 6, 1942, p. 2
16. Untitled article, Telegraph Herald, June 15, 1943, p. 4
17. Kirchen, Rich, "Airport Fortunes Have Soared, Been Grounded," Telegraph Herald, June 16, 1988, p. 38
18. "Chamber Underwriting $5,325 Bid Difference," Telegraph Herald, June 23, 1946, p. 1
19. "Island Airport Being Torn Up," Telegraph Herald, October 17, 1948, p. 1
20. "Dubuque Municipal Airport Dedication Rites Attract Thousands; Jets Featured," Telegraph-Herald, October 25, 1948, p. 1
21. "Oleson Talks on Air Future," Telegraph-Herald, August 5, 1948, p. 7
22. "Council Drops Plan to Rename Airport," Telegraph Herald, September 15, 1950, p. 5
23. "Airport Future Charted," Telegraph Herald, September 23, 1962, p. 1
28. Barton, Thomas J. "New Airport Terminal Lands Under Budget," Telegraph Herald, May 12, 2016, p. 1
30. Hanson, Lyn. "Opinions on Airport Targeted," Telegraph Herald, September 26, 1991, p. 1
31. Bergstrom, Kathy. "Dubuque Airport to Receive $945,000," Telegraph Herald, April 2, 1992, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920402&printsec=frontpage&hl=en
32. Arnold, Bill. "Dubuque to Pilot Airport," Telegraph Herald, April 1, 1993, p. 1
33. McDermott, Brad. "New Runway to Expand Service," Telegraph Herald, October 5, 1997, p. 6F. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19971005&printsec=frontpage&hl=en
35. Grierson, Robert A. "New Airport Passenger Terminal Facility," The Golden View, September 2013, p. 1 and p. 7
36. Jacobson, Ben. "Airport Project Right on Schedule," Telegraph Herald, Sept 10, 2013, p. 1
37. "2015: A By-The-Numbers Review of the Year in the Tri-States," Telegraph Herald, January 3, 2016, p. 2
39. Barton, Thomas J. "Dubuque's New Terminal on Rise," Telegraph Herald, June 8, 2017, p. 1A
40. Barton, Thomas J. "Airport Seeks Marketing Bump," Telegraph Herald, February 12, 2018, p. 1A
41. Fisher, Benjamin, "Fingerprint Scanner in Airport's Budget Request," Telegraph Herald, February 14 2019, p. 3A