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Going up: Jamestown, Devils Lake, Bismarck airports see increase in paid passenger boardings in 2016

by Chris Olson

Posted on 1/20/2017

The Jamestown, Devils Lake and Bismarck airports were the only commercial service airports in the state to see increases in paid passenger boardings for 2016, according to the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.

Overall passenger boardings in North Dakota were down in 2016 almost 11 percent at its eight commercial service airports compared to 2015.

Jamestown Regional Airport set a new record in 2016 with 11,123 paid passenger boardings, according to the Jim Boyd, Jamestown Regional Airport Authority chairman. Jamestown Regional Airport had a 39 percent increase in paid passenger boardings over 2015 when the airport had 7,996 paid passenger boardings.

Boyd said having more than 11,000 paid passengers file through the doors at the Jamestown Regional Airport is great news, but he is expecting more for 2017. Jamestown Regional Airport will receive $1 million in entitlement funding in 2018 from the Federal Aviation Administration for exceeding the 10,000 paid passenger boardings mark in 2016.

"We need to keep moving forward (on getting more passengers)," Boyd said. "The word-of-mouth (about the airport and the services it offers) is wonderful."

Overall the state''s eight commercial service airports in Bismarck, Jamestown, Devils Lake, Fargo, Dickinson, Grand Forks, Minot and Williston, had 1,049,451 paid passengers in 2016, which is down from 1,176,043 in 2015.

Kyle Wanner, North Dakota Aeronautics Commission director, said some of the largest impacts came from the loss of routes to Dickinson and Williston. In December 2015 Delta stopped jet passenger service from Dickinson to Minneapolis, Wanner said. In July 2016 Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport went back on the U.S. Department of Transportation''s Essential Air Service program, and SkyWest Airlines is continuing to provide passenger jet service between Dickinson and Denver.

Williston lost daily, round trip jet passenger service to Houston, Texas, in 2015. Williston broke ground in October on a new $240 million airport, Williston Basin International Airport, which will replace Sloulin Field International Airport. The project should be completed by fall 2019.

"Anytime an airport loses a route, it''s going to affect the numbers," Wanner said.

Wanner said Hector International Airport in Fargo had a decline of 33,637 paid passengers between 2016 and 2015. He said he talked with the airport manager in Fargo and he attributed the loss to a lack of pilots. Wanner said the pilot shortage is a problem around the nation.

"The airlines aren''t eager to throw in more routes or more airplanes because of the pilot issues," he said.

Wanner said low oil and commodity prices have impacted passenger boardings over the last two years. He said with the loss of routes in Dickinson and Williston, it''s not fair to compare 2016 to 2015.

"It''s not an apples-to-apples comparison when you lose routes," he said.

Wanner is confident that 2017 will show a leveling off of passenger boarding declines and the state will see increases in passenger boardings. He said when looking at the 2016 numbers, the year started off with big declines, like 14 percent each month. Then the declines went to 12 percent, then to 10 and 8 percent. In December 2016 the passenger boardings declined by 5.5 percent.

Wanner said the good news is the state''s eight commercial service airports all have passenger jet service and if conditions are right, meaning an upward swing in oil and commodity prices, the routes lost in Dickinson and Williston could come back.