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This artist's rendering shows the new Williston Basin International Airport, which now is under construction and is set to open in October. IMAGE: City of Williston and JE Dunn Construction

Williston, N.D., airport set to take off in the fall

WILLISTON, N.D. – Only a few more months, Williston airport passengers.

Only a few more months of crowding into Sloulin Field – probably North Dakota’s most overstressed airport – until the doors of the brand-new Williston Basin International Airport open, five miles northwest of the current facility.

How will that make a difference? Let us count the ways.

“We’ll start with our commercial terminal, which is the part that most people think of when they think of an airport,” said Anthony Dudas, Williston’s airport director.

“Our current commercial terminal is really brand new in airport standards; it was built in 2005. And in 2005, the forecasted level of traffic to fly out of Williston was fewer than 10,000 people a year.

“That was an accurate forecast at that point in time.”

Then the Bakken oil boom rendered the forecast inaccurate, to say the least.

“In 2014, we did 120,000 people out of that facility,” Dudas said.

“That was more than 10 times the amount of people that that facility has ever been designed to handle.

“Since then, we’ve had a downturn and then an upturn in our economy. But in 2018, we still did 74,000 people out of our facility. So, there still are seven times more people than that facility was ever meant to handle.”

There’s a reason why Dudas says “that facility” instead of “this facility”: His office is no longer in the terminal building. “I had to leave because we didn't have enough office space In the terminal for the airlines, the rental-car agencies and the Transportation Security Administration to be able to operate,” he said.

“So, I’m over in what used to be a National Weather Service office.”

The new terminal will not only be much more spacious but also have many more amenities.

“We have focused our efforts there to make sure we have everything the general public expects when they fly into an airport in this nation,” Dudas said.

“That includes having adequate space to check in, check your bags and so on.”

It will also includes baggage carousels, which Sloulin Field lacks. It’ll include space for TSA baggage screening and other services.

It’ll include a full restaurant and bar, a children's play area, retail space for North Dakota-made items, lots of comfortable seating – and passenger boarding bridges.

“So, people won't have to walk outside in minus-44 degree temperatures to get on their aircraft,” the way they had to at Sloulin Field in February, Dudas said.

And those are just the changes the public will see.

The original Sloulin Field was built in 1947, “which means that today, we’re more or less in the center of town,” Dudas said.

“So, to have built all of the necessary runway, hangar and other infrastructure improvements that we need would have required the city to buy homes and businesses,” and then to have limited development far into the future.

In contrast, the new airport “is designed to accommodate not only the 50-seat regional jets that we have operating today, but also future air service that we feel is appropriate.

“That means we’ve built our facilities around that assumption that sometime in the next 30 years, we could see service from 200-passenger aircraft.”

The new, $280 million airport is set to open in the fall. “Oct. 10 is the opening day, and we are moving full steam ahead on the construction schedule,” Dudas said.

Tom Dennis

Editor, Prairie Business