The coronavirus pandemic led to a 52 percent decline in airline passengers in 2020, according to a North Dakota Aeronautics Commission report.
The state’s eight commercial service airports finished the year with a statewide total of 572,093 airline passenger boardings, a decrease of 619,476 passengers from 2019 and the lowest passenger count that the state has recorded since 2003. North Dakota passenger numbers have been down since the beginning of the pandemic when the state experienced an immediate 95 percent decline in passenger numbers during the month of April. Since that time, the state has been trending in a positive direction and has recovered to approximately 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
“2020 was a challenging year for airports across the country,” XWA Airport Director Anthony Dudas told the Williston Herald. “But as the country really began to rebound, and it’s very slowly rebounding as far as travel is concerned, we saw really positive growth in our passenger traffic. While it is still very minimal, we are cautiously optimistic that that growth will continue.”
The NDAC stated that recent demand has encouraged airlines to begin slowly adding back flights and seat capacity to the state’s airports, which Dudas mentioned as well, as United Airlines began offering additional flights at XWA again in October.
The Aeronautics Commission stated that 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. All eight of the commercial service airports in North Dakota also continue to provide their communities with jet service.
“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.” stated Kyle Wanner, executive director of the commission. “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.”
Williston’s airport reported 31,525 passenger boardings for 2020, a significant change from the 88,235 boardings in 2019. Still, despite the pandemic driving numbers down, Dudas said there were many positives at XWA in 2020.
“With the challenges our community has faced as part of this COVID pandemic, we still finished the year strong,” he said.
Dudas said XWA showed a 13 percent increase in December boardings, and also noted the airport’s XWA PASS program, newly opened Customs and Border Protection facility and crosswind runway as other notable successes for the year.
Looking towards the future, Dudas said he is again “cautiously optimistic” that travel numbers will continue to increase. He added that talks are still ongoing with Delta Airlines to resume service at XWA, and the hope is that they and other carriers will come to the area in the coming year.
“There are opportunities on the horizon for our community, and our city leadership has a great vision for our future here at XWA and for air service in our community.” Dudas said.