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North Dakota Air Travel Demand Surges, Passengers Reach Pre-Pandemic Levels

Dickinson's Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport sees resurgence in passenger numbers thanks to United Airlines and new infrastructure developments.

People are stepping off an airplane in Dickinson.
Passengers debark a United Airlines plane at the Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport in Dickinson, ND, as the state's commercial aviation industry sees a resurgence in passenger numbers and nears pre-pandemic levels.
Photo by James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — North Dakota's commercial service airports ended 2022 with a total of 1,028,159 airline passenger boardings, a growth of 141,350 passengers and a 16% increase from 2021. All eight commercial service airports in the state saw an increase in passenger numbers in 2022 compared to the previous year. Despite significant winter storm events that led to an increase in canceled flights throughout North Dakota in November and December, the state still managed to surpass 1 million passenger boardings for the year, a milestone not seen since pre-pandemic 2019.

Airline boardings in North Dakota have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with passenger numbers dropping by over 50% in 2020. However, the current data shows that air travel demand remains strong in the state. The growth in passenger demand is encouraging for airlines to add more flights, destinations, and seat capacity to North Dakota's airports, but they are facing challenges such as a shortage of pilots and other aviation-related jobs.

The need for a growing aviation workforce will create opportunities for young people to consider a career in the aviation sector, such as pilots, aircraft mechanics, and unmanned aircraft operators, which are projected to be in high demand. Despite the challenges, North Dakota continues to provide high-level air service availability, with seven non-stop destinations and three seasonal non-stop options. All eight commercial service airports in the state also continue to provide reliable jet service.

Construction workers work on concrete for the new runway project at the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport.
Construction workers work on concrete for the new runway project at the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport Friday, Aug. 6, 2021.
Photo by James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press

"This past year was one of significant challenges for the aviation industry as it worked to accommodate a large recovery in passenger demand while simultaneously experiencing significant workforce shortages," said Kyle Wanner, Executive Director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission. "Amongst these challenges, North Dakota's airline passenger demand is within reach of a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels. The success of this recovery showcases the resiliency of our state as well as the importance and heightened standard of living that air service opportunities provide to our citizens."

The Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport in Dickinson, North Dakota, is seeing a resurgence in passenger numbers, thanks to the efforts of United Airlines and the airport's management. United Airlines currently services the airport, offering low airfares for business travelers, competitive fares, and two round-trip flights per day to Denver, Colorado, with connections to destinations all over the world.

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Recent news from the airport includes the acquisition of new snow removal equipment, which will be used to keep runways clear during the winter months. The funding for this equipment comes from an FAA grant of $1,665,000, which was approved by the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Committee. The grant will also help with maintenance of the airport's new infrastructure, including runways, taxiways, and ramps, and will be used to fund a study on options for commercial terminal development.

The airport has also undergone a major construction project, which included expanding the size of the runway and parallel taxiway by over 100%, and will be completed in November this year. This project will bring the airport into compliance with new guidelines set by the FAA.

"It will also give us the ability to look at some future options for commercial terminal development," said Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport Manager Kelly Braun in a recent statement. "The terminal study will help put together a strong case for acquiring those funds."

The airport's management is encouraged by the recent growth in passenger numbers, which have been increasing to near pre-pandemic levels. This is a positive sign for the future of the Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport and for the state of North Dakota's commercial aviation industry as a whole.

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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