Kyle Wanner, Director
If you had the opportunity to attend the Upper Midwest Aviation Symposium in early March, you may have attended a session where I presented on the current state of aviation in North Dakota. At that time, I had been a firm believer that the aviation industry in North Dakota was in an incredibly strong position and at a historical high point in multiple areas. I also provided information which showed that 2020 was trending towards a record-breaking year in statewide air service and air passenger levels. It’s amazing how drastically things can change in just a couple of weeks.
The COVID-19 virus that has now spread throughout the world is having an unprecedented and significant impact on airports throughout our state and country. As of early April, airline passenger boardings throughout North Dakota and the rest of the country are currently estimated to be at 5% of their normal passenger boarding numbers. Commercial airports receive most of their operational revenue through passenger facility charges from purchased airline tickets, paid parking, and customer facility charges from car rentals and other on-site concessionaires. The dramatic drop in passengers has, in turn, created financial concerns for both airports and airlines who depend on passengers for revenue. The CARES stimulus package that was recently signed into law is expected to provide short term relief for airports and the aviation industry and will help our community leaders continue to work through this crisis. A full breakdown of the aviation aid that was provided within the stimulus bill is provided following this article.
Airlines have reacted to this lower demand by temporarily grounding aircraft and reducing the amounts of flights at airports throughout the country. North Dakota’s airports have also been experiencing reductions in flights and in the month of April, the state has experienced an estimated 42 percent loss in overall passenger seats available. These losses are expected to be temporary, as the current demand for air travel has been significantly lowered due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. In the near future, the airlines are expected to maintain a minimal service level to communities throughout the country due to the aid that they will receive from the CARES stimulus package.
All of North Dakota’s commercial and general aviation airports continue to remain operational at this time and the freight of products via air transportation are ongoing without disruption. Our incredible airport staff throughout the state continue to maintain and operate safe facilities for those people who currently need to utilize the safest air transportation system in the world. Airport staff and TSA personnel at our commercial service airports are also being pro-active to sanitize surfaces throughout their airport multiple times a day, in efforts to maintain clean facilities and help to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Although these are currently difficult times, our airports are helping to ensure the safe transportation of critical materials and personnel who need to travel. They are also working hard to be in a position to help our economy rebound, once the COVID-19 virus concerns have subsided. Due to the strength that we previously had in North Dakota’s aviation industry and the fact that North Dakota’s airports have tackled so many other significant issues over the years, I am confident that together, we can work through these new issues and help our communities come out of this situation stronger than before.
Throughout this challenging period, please know that myself and the entirety of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission team are here to support you in any way that we can. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay optimistic that we are all strong enough to weather this storm – together.