On February 6th, Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) and the Fairbanks community lost Burnie Hall, an iconic and constant figure at Fairbanks International Airport since the late 1960's.
Burnie was a one-of-a-kind and had an unsurpassed passion for aviation and the airport. Burnie's first FAI-based job was in the late 60's when he went to work for Interior Airways as a cargo/load master hauling freight to and from the North Slope in preparation for the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. After his stint with Interior Airways, he moved on to Pan American Airlines working as a supervisor in customer service and cargo, then decided that the airport was where he wanted to be. Pan Am was in the midst of shutting their doors permanently, so Burnie bought the old Pan Am building and leased the lot to develop the first independent ground handling operation on the airport's West Ramp. FAI desperately needed these services to entice and support large aircraft coming from Asia en route to the Lower 48, charter aircraft carrying passengers and cargo to international destinations, and military charters that needed ramp space. Because of Burnie's stubbornness and steadfastness, Omni Logistics, Inc., evolved into a prosperous business from the "ground" up – the ground service provider of choice at FAI. He was often seen on the ramp marshalling in a Herc to load freight going up north, wandering around his hangar, and repairing his ground service equipment - a never-ending task.
With access to Burnie's kegerator the Omni office was a favorite after hours gathering place and watering hole both for airport staff and visiting flight crews. Burnie's legacy includes handling Japan Air Lines' (JAL's) inaugural FAI aurora viewing charter flight in 2005 and a subsequent airport assessment consulting gig for JAL at the Majuro, Marshall Islands, airport.
Burnie was also a family man. His daughter, Carmen, helped run Omni's day-to-day operations. She kept him in check and out of trouble, intervening on his behalf when things might become contentious. His wife, Claudia, was also behind the scenes watching out for Burnie. Diana, his oldest daughter, encouraged and supported Omni from afar. They operated as a family team, and the team made Omni successful.
As the years went by, and Burnie wanted to slow down (that's a joke!), he purchased another storage building on Old Airport Way across from Omni Logistics from Bernie Saupe to store his ground service equipment. However, Burnie converted that little storage building into his "toy shop" to store and tinker around with his "Vintage Ford Cars." His dad owned the Ford dealership in Fairbanks during Burnie's childhood where Burnie got his love of Fords. He often took friends and car aficionados to his "toy shop" to boast about and show off his collection. And it was impressive.
Burnie retired, sold Omni, and bought a hangar at Chena Marina. He stored his old cars on one side of that hangar with a façade the same as his dad's dealership. The other side was done up "Aviation Style" with a bar called "The Bent Prop." Burnie took the airport with him to his new location. FAI is like that and very hard to get away from.
We will all miss Burnie's frequent post-retirement visits to the airport, his tenacity when he wanted language or a term added to one of his leases, and the pleasure of visiting with this long-time Fairbanksan and airport icon talking about the good old days at FAI. Good bye, Burnie! Hope you're driving fast and flying high!