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Devils Lake airport breaks record for annual boardings

by April Baumgarten

Posted on 12/17/2016

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. - Devils Lake Regional Airport has broken its record for boardings in a year, with one more month to go before total numbers come in for 2016.

The airport boarded 470 passengers in November, according to numbers released by the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission. That brings the airport''s boardings in 2016 to 5,743 through November, surpassing the yearly record of 5,488 passengers, which was set in 2011.

The airport has broken almost every monthly record this year. Though November was not a record month - 2011 holds the November record with 517 - it still is 26 percent ahead of last year''s count of 373. Year-to-date numbers through November are up almost 38 percent from last year.

It''s almost hard to believe the airport already has broken its 2011 record, manager John Nord said. Part of the reason more people are boarding in Devils Lake is United Airlines, which has direct flights to Denver.

In 2014, the flight service replaced Great Lakes Airlines, a Minneapolis-bound airline that lost a bid for an Essential Air Service contract to SkyWest Airlines. SkyWest partners with United.

Cancellations and delays caused a drop in numbers for Devils Lake when Great Lakes took over for Delta Airlines in 2011, the year the airport boarded almost 5,500 passengers. Boardings dropped below 3,000 in 2012 and to 2,667 passengers in 2013.

"We were really disappointed when Delta decided not to serve our airport anymore," Nord said. "Then we ran into some really lull years in 2012, 2013 and ... half of 2014 with Great Lakes."

Devils Lake served 2,889 passengers in 2014, a figure that reflects several months without air service since Great Lakes left in early 2014 and United couldn''t take over until June 2014.

But 2015 numbers soared to 5,104 passengers. With the increase of customers, SkyWest signed a two-year contract that began in July and added another flight, bringing the airport''s weekly roundtrips to 12.

"The way our numbers took off, it was just about hard to believe that less than 2 years after United started with a new route ... that we would exceed the 2011 numbers, but we just blew them away, and look for a great month in December," Nord said.

Another feature that attracts customers is free parking, he said.

Devils Lake boardings should climb toward 6,300 as December brings travelers flying across the country for the holiday season, Nord said. He added it''s possible those numbers could grow next year, as well.

North Dakota numbers

Devils Lake, along with airports in Bismarck and Jamestown, have bucked a trend of decreased numbers seen by other airports in North Dakota.

North Dakota''s November numbers were down about 2 percent from last year. Year-to-date boardings through November were down more than 11 percent.

The largest decreases were in western North Dakota, which has been attributed to a decrease in oil prices that forced companies to lay off workers, resulting in fewer passengers and fewer flights.

Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, which lost its Delta Airlines connection to Minneapolis last December, saw a decrease in November numbers-a 54 percent drop from last year. Year-to-date boardings through November for Dickinson were down about 62 percent, the largest percentage decrease for any airport in the state.

Sloulin Field International Airport in Williston, with year-to-date numbers dropping by more than 37 percent from last year, lost its American Airlines connection to Houston. November numbers compared with last year were down almost 22 percent.

Fargo''s Hector International Airport numbers jumped 5 percent in November, but year-to-date boardings through the month were down 9 percent.

Grand Forks International Airport''s November and year-to-date through November numbers dropped from last year by about 10 percent.

Jamestown''s 45 percent increase was the largest in the state. November numbers increased 33 percent.

Bismarck''s November numbers from last year were up 15 percent, with year-to-date figures through November up 5 percent.

Overall, North Dakota''s year-to-date numbers are up from 10-year averages. With airports boarding 956,749 passengers, it''s likely boardings will exceed a million by the end of the year, according to the report.