North Dakota’s eight commercial service airports are currently experiencing a dramatic decline in passenger numbers despite posting a 12% year to date growth through the first two months of the year. The airports recently posted the highest passenger numbers on record for the month of February and the overall trend was pointing towards the potential of a record-breaking year in statewide passenger boardings.
Passenger numbers then noticeably began to drop by the middle of March as a reduction of travel due to the COVID-19 virus began to have an unprecedented and significant impact on airports throughout North Dakota and the rest of the country. Instead of the expected passenger growth to continue; commercial service passenger boardings throughout North Dakota during the month of March dropped 43% or 46,042 passengers from March of 2019.
Commercial 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. 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 that 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.
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% 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,” stated Kyle Wanner, Executive Director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission. “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 hopefully help our communities come out of this situation even stronger than before.”