MOORLAND — During the past several years, pilots have had confidence that they could land safely at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport — even when strong winter weather swept through the area.
That’s because Randy Hanna, the airport’s maintenance supervisor, was working on the ground to ensure all was clear.
One particular time, a pilot let his opinion of Fort Dodge’s airport be known.
“The pilot remarked over the intercom, ‘We can get into Fort Dodge because we know they are good,'” Hanna recalled.
For almost 30 years, Hanna, of Moorland, became entrenched in his job. He retired from that post earlier this year.
He never saw it as a job.
“This has never been a job,” Hanna said. “It’s always been a lifestyle. I’ve always had a pager or phone connected to me all of the time.”
He had to be alert at nearly all times.
“Just being here and being aware of what was going on, to know the airport,” Hanna said. “The snows are never the same. The wind direction. Trying to keep ahead of the game. A lot of times we only had one runway and one taxiway open, but we kept at those to keep those open.”
The aiport’s record of staying open was impressive, he said.
“For the most part for an airport our size, we had a better record than anyone keeping the airport open the most and I take great pride in that,” Hanna said.
Between keeping the runways clear, completing inspections, and making sure everyone at the airport was on task, Hanna had no shortage of things to do.
“I was the one responsible for calling people in,” he said. “I spent several nights here overnight and starting up before other guys get in. The TSA get here so early in the morning. I had to make sure the front was always clean before they got here.”
He added, “I always had a plan of attack every day. I always knew what I was going to do. I lived and breathed this job for over 29 years. I go to bed at night and think nothing but the airport. It’s an all consuming job if you want to be successful at it. You have to make it your life.”
His first priority was checking the runway.
“Make sure everything is safe for flying public and especially the airline,” he said. “After that we do parameter checks. Make sure the gates are all properly locked. At times we have had cars go through the fences, so we have to make sure those are secure.”
Hanna, a 1974 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate, logged more than 55,000 miles on the airport’s large snowplow, which added up 5,600 hours behind the wheel.
“It was a lot of going up and down the runways,” he said. “It’s a mile runway.”
He said when he first started it was during the month of February. His mother wondered if he would get the chance to plow.
“She said I hope it snows so you get a chance to use the snowplow for the end of the winter,” Hanna recalled.
He added, “That has always stuck in my mind,” he said. “Mom said, ‘I guess you did get to drive a snowplow.'”
His level of commitment came with a few sacrifices.
“My girls grew up here,” he said. “They didn’t know anything else. They knew if it even got close to being winter, dad was going to be in a foul mood.”
When it wasn’t snowing, Hanna focused on keeping the ditches mowed, especially for Memorial Day, state softball, and concerts, he said.
Hanna credited Kevin Farrell, another maintenance worker for his success.
“I had one guy that worked with me for 28 years,” Hanna said. “When he found out I was leaving, he decided he didn’t want to be here. I could have never have done this job without him.”
He said the two made a good team.
“He’s left handed, so I always called him my left hand man,” Hanna said. “We were probably the best that were ever here and the best that ever will be here because we were a team. We always worked together really good.”
He added, “We always told Rhonda (Chambers, director of aviation) we would leave together and she said, ‘no you can’t do that,’ and it ended up that way.”
Hanna said he tried to learn something new every day.
“If you don’t learn something every day, you don’t want to learn,” he said. “The FAA is always throwing curveballs. You have to go to work every day with your eyes wide open. The different things going on at the airport.”
The landscape of his job changed forever after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Hanna was fixing a fence on the north side of 170th Street on the morning of the attacks.
He drove back to the airport for parts.
“Someone told me a plane crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said. “When I came back to the terminal, all of the TVs were on. It wasn’t a mistake. It was terrorism.”
He said he didn’t think there was a flight on the ground at the Fort Dodge Regional Airport, but other flights were canceled.
“A lot of the United States aircraft were grounded in Canada,” he said. “No one was allowed to leave.”
He added, “After 9/11 our whole lives totally changed. There’s a big safety aspect, working with the TSA. It’s a whole new world out there for everyone. In general, everything has changed and it will never go back to the way we always thought it was.”
Aside from his day job, Hanna has been a volunteer firefighter in Moorland for more than 30 years. He’s a fourth generation firefighter.
“My dad was a firefighter in the Navy, mom’s dad was a fire chief in Humboldt,” he said. “My great grandfathers were on the fire department together in Humboldt.”
He said Emergency Medical Services make up a majority of calls the department receives.
“That’s a big part of the job,” he said. “We do a lot of training. We have been to a lot of accidents.”
Hanna served in the U.S. Army for three years, from 1975 to 1978.
“I lived with the German Army for three months and saw the Berlin Wall and saw how people were living, and then come back and 9/11 happens and we are in the same predicament as they are,” he said.
At the airport, Hanna treated every day like a member of his family was coming home on a flight.
“I put every ounce of my energy into this place,” he said. “I made sure that if a loved one was up in that airplane wanting to get home — that’s why I did everything the way I did. I tried to treat everybody like family.”