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Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of the Fargo Municipal Airport Authority, stands by a UPS jet on the tarmac at Hector International Airport in Fargo, N.D. IMAGE: Hector International Airport

Shawn Dobberstein , Fargo Municipal Airport Authority: Local airports key to business, community vitality

FARGO, N.D. – For those of us who live and work in “flyover country,” access to affordable and convenient air travel is not a given. We rely on our local commercial service airports to connect us to the world for business meetings, family visits, vacations and more.

The alternative – long drive times to hub cities (often in inclement weather), pricey hotel stays, high parking fees and the dreaded return-drive home after the flight day is over – is rarely appealing.

North Dakota’s airports have seen an impressive overall increase in passenger traffic in the past decade. More than 1 million passengers boarded planes at the state’s eight commercial service and regional airports in 2018, an increase of more than 360,000 people compared to 2009.

Fargo’s Hector International Airport remains the busiest airport in the state. Passenger boardings at Hector in 2018 totaled 422,190. In November, a record 69,826 people passed through Hector’s terminal building.

In fact, every month of 2018 saw an increase in passenger traffic over the same month a year prior at Hector.

More flights, more options

A combination of factors can be credited for the increased passenger traffic. The obvious factor is simply more flights. Hector International Airport is constantly courting airlines to add new flights, establish service or re-enter the market. Through this ongoing effort, Hector was able to once again welcome low-fare carrier Frontier Airlines to Fargo last May, providing three low-fare flight options to Denver each week.

Four other airlines serve Hector, including Allegiant, American, Delta and United, with service to nine highly desired hubs in the U.S.  

Growing passenger numbers and the airport’s ability to accommodate additional airlines are favorable considerations for airports hoping to attract additional air carriers and flight destinations. But airlines everywhere are grappling with a critical shortage of pilots. This has already hindered some airlines’ expansion plans and is expected to continue to make it hard for carriers to add regional flights.

Airlines simply do not have the manpower to add more flights – and in some cases, they are being forced to cut regional flights despite high demand.

Economic impacts

Airports play a direct role in supporting their community’s economy. People traveling through Fargo’s airport, for example, often spend time in the community, eating at restaurants, staying at local hotels and participating in other leisure activities, boosting the Fargo-Moorhead metro’s economy along the way.  

Indirectly, airports help communities attract businesses and support day-to-day commerce. Studies conducted at Hector have shown that about half of the people passing through our airport are business travelers.  We provide vital connections that make it possible for our area’s business sectors to conveniently conduct in-person business anytime, anywhere.

And the accessibility the airport provides our community makes it equally easy to bring business clients, partners and events to our front doors.

Aside from passenger travel, commercial service airports such as Hector provide additional positive economic impact to the community through air cargo services. In 2018, UPS joined FedEx in operating jet service from Hector. This added about 70 jobs to the community and extended daily hours of service for UPS customers in the Fargo area by about three hours.

Last but not least, events such as the Fargo AirSho – which attracts more than 30,000 people over two days – provide a sizable boost to the local economy through tourism dollars spent in the community.

Quality of life

Airports host milestone moments every single day, some on a larger scale than others. In 2018, Air Force One made two trips to Hector International Airport. Two Honor Flights traveled round-trip from Hector to Washington, providing war veterans the chance to visit memorials and get a hero’s welcome upon their return.

Dozens of active duty soldiers reunited with their families and friends after spending months abroad serving our country. Flights organized through the local Make-a-Wish organization provided families opportunities to make precious memories together.

None of these activities would have been possible without a right-sized airport to fly into.

Air travel has become an essential part of life, and access to affordable, convenient flights makes living in flyover country a little easier and more attractive for everyone.

Shawn Dobberstein

Executive Director

Fargo Municipal Airport Authority

Fargo, N.D.