ND airports see 52% decrease in passengers; lowest since 2003

North Dakota’s eight commercial service airports finished 2020 down 619,476 passengers or a 52% decrease from the previous year. The numbers were the lowest passenger count the state has recorded since 2003.

The Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport is continuing their project to expand the runway. (File Image / The Dickinson Press)

North Dakota’s eight commercial service airports finished 2020 down 619,476 passengers or a 52% decrease from the previous year. The numbers were the lowest passenger count the state has recorded since 2003.

Businesses and nonprofits suffered greatly as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the United States and the world. One of the industries that took the hardest hit during the pandemic was tourism and recreation, as evident in a new report by the North Dakota Department of Tourism that outlined the loss of more than $1 billion through visitation and visitor spending in the state. At the onset of the pandemic local, state and federal government mandates and restrictions began being imposed across the United States and by April passenger numbers into and out of North Dakota witnessed an immediate 95% decline.

Significant reductions in passenger numbers saw many airline flights being cancelled or planes flying empty between airports, which massively reduced revenues for airlines and forced many to lay off employees or declare bankruptcy.

"The Dickinson airport has been hit particularly hard, seeing passenger enplanements drop substantially, down 52% from last year. Compounding the decline in passenger traffic has been the down turn in oil and gas development and production," Kelly Braun, manager of Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, said.

Echoing his concerns, but shining a light at the end of the tunnel, Kyle Wanner the executive director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission believes that the industry is in the middle of a rebound.


“Our airports rose to the challenge that this past year brought for the aviation industry which resulted in significant negative impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wanner said. “Our airports never closed and they quickly worked to implement recommended mitigations to help ensure that a safe environment exists for those who need to travel. They were also able to accommodate emergency related personnel and products to efficiently enter and depart our state. As we look forward to 2021, I remain optimistic that airline passenger numbers will continue their current positive trend towards recovery.”

Wanner's reference to positive trends comes after reports indicate flight travel has rebounded over the autumn months and into the winter to approximately 50% of its pre-pandemic levels, and that positivity was echoed by Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport's manager Kelly Braun who addressed ongoing projects aimed at increasing availability and traffic in southwestern North Dakota.

"The airport is half way through the reconstruction of its main runway 14-32, opening a temporary runway 15-33 this last fall," Braun said. "Construction will continue in the spring with the project completion scheduled for November 2022."

Braun added, “This project will continue to serve this community for years."

The recent growth in demand has encouraged airlines to begin slowly adding flights back to the schedule and seat capacities to their flights. Today, North Dakota still has a high level of air service availability based upon historical standards as the state’s airports still provide the public with 10 non-stop destinations, three of which are seasonal.

James B. Miller, Jr. is the Editor of The Dickinson Press in Dickinson, North Dakota. He strives to bring community-driven, professional and hyper-local focused news coverage of southwest North Dakota.
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