To a round of thunderous applause, The Williston Basin International Airport is open for business.
The story of XWA has been one of complications, delays and last minute preparation, but also of the indomitable spirit of the Williston community, specifically it’s city leaders, who have worked for nearly a decade to get the airport operational.
In a serendipitous twist of fate, a delay actually added to the story of the airport. The United Airlines flight that was scheduled to be the first into the new facility was delayed in Denver due to weather issues, making Delta Connections from Minneapolis the first plane to land. That plane, the first commercial flight into Williston’s state-of-the-art new airport, was piloted by none other than Williston native Elliott Monson.
As the first flight touched down, there were cheers and handshakes from city and airport officials, finally able to breathe a sigh of relief as the airport officially commenced operations. Smiling from ear to ear, Airport Director Anthony Dudas stood watching as the plane taxied up to the terminal, where passengers were greeted by Mayor Howard Klug and the rest of the City Commission, who handed out commemorative coins welcoming new arrivals as the first passengers into XWA.
“I’ve waited for this moment for 10 years,” Klug told the Williston Herald. “I knew that we were going to be on time and on budget. The first flight coming in was delayed in Denver for icing issues, but this is even better. The pilot is a Williston native. His mother and his family are here, and to have a Williston native as the first commercial plane to touch down at this airport, it means a lot to us. This airport is really going to push us into where we need to be as a city.”
The overall feeling from the city and airport was one of relief, as things came down to the wire in terms of operation.
The FAA did not grant XWA its operating certificate until the night before it was set to open, but once they signed off, everything was a go and the frantic scramble to transition staff and equipment from Sloulin Field to the new facility began.
“It’s a relief and a real sense of achievement for the city staff that worked so hard to get us to the finish line,” Airport Commissioner Chris Brostuen said. “The time frame ended up being very tight, and I would say a little scary, but through a lot of hard work and dedication, we made it.”
“That’s one nice thing about our city,” Commissioner Deanette Piesik added, “All of the departments come together to help out. This wasn’t just an airport thing, this is for the entire City of Williston and every city department was out here helping and we’re very proud of all of them.”
Perhaps the most relieved was Dudas, who has spent countless hours working to ensure that XWA stayed on schedule. With the first flight officially on the ground, and many more coming in the next few days, months and years, he said he was finally able to relax, just a little, and enjoy what is a historic moment for Williston, North Dakota and the country.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for,” Dudas said, a big smile on his face. “I finally am able to sleep a little better tonight.”