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Dickinson airport yearly boardings drop 60 percent

Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport saw a nearly 60 percent decrease in boardings from 2015 to 2016, however airport officials say that should not be cause for concern.

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Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport file photo.

Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport saw a nearly 60 percent decrease in boardings from 2015 to 2016, however airport officials say that should not be cause for concern.

Airport manager Kelly Braun said they expected to see lower boarding numbers due to the decrease in oil activity in the Bakken. Boarding numbers dropped from 41,846 in 2015 to 16,795 in 2016.

"With the downturn in activity in western North Dakota that's directly linked to oil and gas exploration, we anticipated those numbers would see a dramatic decline," Braun said.

He said they have seen the numbers dropping since 2015 and have made budget adjustments accordingly.

"A decline in numbers also means there's a decline in revenue, so we have to curb projects where we were maybe looking at some equipment acquisitions, and we've put those acquisitions off," he said.

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However, Braun added that he does not want people to look at the number in a negative light. He does not expect numbers to drop below this past year's numbers in the coming years and said he believes it will be the new "baseline" for the airport.

The numbers are actually about 8,000 ahead of what the airport was receiving "pre-boom"-around 2009 and 2010, Braun said.

"If we try to adjust and keep a somewhat gradually increasing trajectory, we are ahead of projections we had made in 2009 and 2010 to be where we're at now," he said.

Jon Frantsvog, chairman of the Dickinson Airport Authority board, said the fluctuation in boardings also had an impact on the airport's Essential Air Services qualification. During the oil boom the airport no longer met the qualifications for the federal subsidies and was removed from the program, but Frantsvog said they still "kept the capacity to go back" to the program, which it did in September of 2016.

"Most people will say 'For every boom, there is a bust,'" Frantsvog said. "The prudent thing to do was to be prepared for that."

Frantsvog said that boarding numbers have been declining as the amount of revenue the state sees has also been decreasing. He said they have been carefully planning budgets with that idea in mind.

"We're thoughtful about it, and we do the best that we can," he said. "I think if anything we aired a little bit to the side of 'Hope for the best, but plan for the worst' so we tried to make sure our budget estimates were conservative, so that we didn't find ourselves in an untenuous position."

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