WILLISTON — There are 428 TSA airports in the nation and, of them all, one has been selected the fairest in the land. That airport is none other than Sloulin Field International Airport, right here in Williston.
Sloulin Airport has won Airport of the Year award from the Transportation Security Administration for its exemplary customer focus and efficient operation while maintaining required security standards. Airport director Steve Kjergaard couldn't be happier about that.
"This is pretty distinct and a high honor," Kjergaard said. "They view this as, 428 airports each year are TSA airports, and you were the best out of that 428 nationwide. We were better than every airport except the largest ones, like Denver, or Minneapolis."
Sloulin received numerous top marks in comment cards from passengers, TSA officials said, and did so despite being staffed with temporary, rotating staff, many of whom are unused to doing such a large volume of passengers without all the automated equipment common to larger airports.
"ISN has also experienced increases in passenger traffic as high as 261 percent," according to David Negron, who is with the North Dakota office of the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration.
That influx of additional passengers has prompted Delta and United to each add a flight, and the airport itself is conducting a relocation study so they can build a larger facility.
"We had 119,000 enplanements last year for 2014," Kjergaard said. "That's about 25,000 more than we did in 2013, and it's a substantial increase for over the past couple years."
Sloulin checks somewhere between 1,000 and 1,300 bags each month, and must do so manually.
"Through all of this the NDF officers, DTSO volunteers and the permanent ISN workforce have worked harmoniously to provide the world-class security experience we expect for our travelers," Negron said.
Sloulin is now at No. 5 for number of enplanements in the state, Kjergaard said. "We go back and forth with Grand Forks for five and six, and that will probably continue until we relocate, after which, we will move up to four and maybe even two."
When Kjergaard arrived here in 2010, Sloulin did only 15,000 enplanements.
"We've added service with United and Delta," Kjergaard said. "When I got here, we just had Great Lakes, and they (Delta and United) keep adding more flights."
Oil prices may be down, but Kjergaard said that's not expected to slow down air traffic much, if any at all. "People like being able to fly to Minot, Dickinson and Bismarck," Kjergaard said, adding that the state itself broke 1 million passengers by October of this year.
That figure has gotten a month earlier the past three years, Kjergaard added. The state wasn't forecast to break the 1 million mark for another 20 years.
"As of now we have four flights to Denver, one to Houston and four to Minneapolis," Kjergaard said. "The airlines have chosen to add more flights due to the load factors we see. We have very high load factors."
Once the relocation happens, the new airport will have 100,000 square feet, versus 9,000 square feet now, and the runways will be lengthened to 7,500 square feet. The airport will be able to accommodate even more flights and larger aircraft.
Kjergaard said they could make the airport meet federal standards inside the existing field, however, they'd always be restricted to the current size of aircraft, and they'd never be able to grow. That wouldn't support the city's growth very well.
"We are continuing to move forward, continuing to grow and expand and trying to serve the community as best we can," Kjergaard said. "We are still challenged in that we're trying to shoehorn as many people into that airport as we can."