In the years to come, North Dakota’s airports will see changes aimed at accommodating increasing numbers of travelers.
In 2008, the state had about 682,000 passengers flying out of commercial airports in North Dakota. That number is now up to about 1.2 million and is expected to continue growing, according to Kyle Wanner, director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission.
North Dakota is looking to make changes that will accommodate this increase in air-travel demand. Wanner points to multiple new projects being undertaken in the state, including a new terminal now open in Minot, the planned re-location and expansion of the Williston airport and a proposal for a new runway in Bismarck.
“Bismarck is actually looking at the reconstruction of its runway. They’re hoping to get a grant here in 2016 that would probably be a three-year cycle,” Wanner said. “We are very confident that we can handle any additional increase in passengers.”
Some of those airport construction projects were instigated, in part, by airlines moving to discontinue use of 50-foot jets in favor of longer ones.
“There’s quite a few predictions that, by 2020, there will not be 50-foot jets, because they are not ordering any more and are not doing any major overhaul,” Wanner said. “Williston and Dickinson are not able to accommodate those large jets. That’s one of the reasons that Williston is looking at building a whole new airport and Dickinson an entire runway. We need to prepare for the future.”
While demands upon the airline industry in North Dakota are increasing, advances are being countermanded by a potential shortage of pilots in the future. Fewer pilots are enrolling in training courses and many are retiring. Another contributor to the shortage is an increase in the number of training hours required to become a pilot.
What may alleviate that problem also may be in the not-too-distant future: the implementation of automated or unmanned aircraft. According to Wanner, the technology for this to happen already exists and is being used in the Middle East. One pilot would still be present on the plane.
Costs associated with air travel will be as fickle as future gas prices: “It takes a while for lower gas prices to lower fares; however, once gas prices start to rise again, we’ll see fares rise again quickly,” said travel agent MB Schmidt, of Northland Travel.
Travel agent Roxi Miller, of Miller Travel Co., claims that, while airlines will continue to offer more options and benefits to please customers, those options will cost extra money.
“There is a big demand for drinks, food, Wi-Fi, TV entertainment, but the airlines will charge for these as an additional revenue source,” said Miller, pointing out that another way for airlines to generate more revenue is shrinking the size of seats.
However, the traveling populous — already engaged in battle with fellow passengers over arm space and crunched knees — may rise in rebellion over those proposals, which also are being challenged by safety specifications.