More capacity needed to grow air travel

Jill Schramm/MDN The Minot airport terminal sees activity Monday. The airport boarded more than 11,000 passengers in July.

North Dakota’s air travel numbers are falling, and lack of airline seats is a factor, according to the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.

North Dakota’s eight commercial service airports posted 89,865 airline passenger boardings during July, a decline of 3,057 passengers or 3.3% from July of 2021. The decline follows a national trend in which passenger growth over the last year has leveled to about 15% below 2019’s pre-pandemic passenger counts. This is mainly a result of the limited seat capacity and flight departures, which remain below pre-pandemic levels, the commission reported.

An estimated 111,039 airline seats were available for purchase in North Dakota during July. This is a 16% decrease, or an estimated 20,858 fewer seats, than were available in July of 2019, according to U.S. Department of Transportation numbers.

“Airlines continue to communicate hardships that prevent them from adding additional seat capacity into the system,” said Kyle Wanner, executive director of the N.D. Aeronautics Commission. “Passenger growth cannot occur when we don’t have the additional flights or the seats to accommodate that growth. We hope to see additional capacity being added back into the North Dakota system as the airline industry continues to re-prioritize the utilization of its fleet and works to improve its staffing issues.”

Passenger demand remains elevated as many of the flights departing or returning to North Dakota are full or near full with the average aircraft load factor at an estimated 80%, the commission stated. The commission recommends passengers plan ahead and purchase tickets multiple weeks ahead of any planned trips to ensure accommodations.

Passenger boardings at Minot International Airport in July totaled 11,303, down from 13,283 boardings in July 2021, for a 14.9% drop. July boardings were down 29% from 2019.

Year-to-date boardings of 78,360 through July in Minot are up 15.5% from a year ago, although down 17.6% from 2019. All eight of North Dakota’s commercial service airports are seeing year-to-date increases over 2021. Williston saw a 60.7% increase, while Dickinson is up 44.56% and Grand Forks is up 43.78%.


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