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State Series: North and South Dakota

Picture from KevinBean at Panoramio.com

Since the creation of the first airport in 1909 by Wilbur Wright, cities in the United States have come together to create one of the most expansive airport systems in the world. Over the next few months, our writers have taken an in-depth look to see what airports each state has to offer, what its history entails, and what changes we can expect in the future that will continue to shape the airline industry.

North and South Dakota are numbers 39 and 40 on the list of states by date of admission to the Union, with both being admitted on November 2, 1889. The focus on commercial air traffic in North and South Dakota itself is more on a domestic basis rather than advertising any such international portfolios, but has continued to grow thanks to recent developments in manufacturing and the fracking oil industry.


Bismarck Municipal Airport – Burleigh County, North Dakota (BIS)

Bismarck has two asphalt runways, labelled 13/31 at 8,794 feet and 3/21 at 6,600 feet). The airport’s commercial presence began in 1963 when the Ritterbush Brothers created a single-story terminal. Additional expansions were implemented in 1982 before it was demolished in 2003 to make reservations for a new $15 million terminal that was built in 2005. The airport averages over 45,000 aircraft operations per year and has 89 aircraft based locally.

Five commercial carriers operate to Bismarck, featuring Allegiant, American Eagle, Delta, Frontier and United on services to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando, Chicago, Dallas, Minneapolis and Denver respectively. Delta is the leading carrier at the airport with over 112,000 passengers travelling to Minneapolis yearly with the Atlanta-based carrier. Cargo carriers are involved in Bismarck as well, as onlookers can see aircraft from Alpine Air Express, FedEx, Encore Air Cargo and Martinaire operating to destinations such as Grand Forks, Fargo and Sioux Falls respectively.

Hector International Airport – Cass County, North Dakota (FAR)

Named after Martin Hector, the individual responsible for donating the land for the aiport, Hector International Airport is a civil-military airport Northwest of Fargo. The airport is home to the Fargo Air National Guard Base and the Happy Hooligans of the 119th Wing. The 119 WG is a unit of the North Dakota Air National Guard who operate C-21A Learjet’s and MQ-1 Predators. The airport averages around 800,000 passengers per year from 78,000 operations, and has over 150 aircraft based locally.

In terms of commercial carriers that operate to the airport, Allegiant Air, American Eagle, Delta Airlines & United provide service to Las Vegas, Phoenix/Mesa, Los Angeles, Orlando/Sanford, St Petersburg/Clearwater, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta and Denver. Cargo services are also something that is quite locally based around Hector, with carriers such as Alpine Air Express, Encore Air Cargo, FedEx and Martinaire operating services between Sioux Falls, Appleton, Bismarck, Dickinson, Minot, Thief River Falls, Williston and Memphis. The airport underwent an expansion and renovation in 2006, adding an additional gate and expanded security area.

Grand Forks International Airport – Grand Forks County, North Dakota (GFK)

Grand Forks International Airport was known as the 23rd busiest airport in the U.S in 2009, recording a staggering 346,165 tower operations. 90% of such traffic accounted as flights operated by the University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, who are based on the airport grounds. The airport features four runways, three concrete and one asphalt, labelled 9L/27R at 4,206 feet, 17L/35R at 3,901 feet, 17R/35L at 7,351 feet and 9R/27L at 3,300 feet. The airport’s original passenger terminal was built in 1964 and was subsequently closed in 2009 with a new terminal being completed by August 2011.

Allegiant Air and Delta control most of the airport’s operations with service to Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix and Minneapolis with Encore Air Cargo being the only cargo carrier operating out of the airport with service to Sioux Falls, following FedEx’s decision to withdraw from Grand Forks and instead move to Hector International Airport in order to operate more efficiently within the Dakota area.

Sioux Falls Regional Airport – Minnehaha County, South Dakota (FSD)

Sioux Falls Regional Airport averages over 67,000 aircraft operations per year and has 111 aircraft based at the field. The airport’s history began in 1937, and by 1942 the City of Sioux Falls leased the airport to the federal government to become the Sioux Falls Army Air Base during World War Two. By 1946, after the end of the war, control of the field was handed back to the city, and the South Dakota Air National Guard established at the field. The 114th Wing operate F-16C and F-16D aircraft over the airport.

The airport’s commercial portfolio sees Allegiant Air, American, Delta, Frontier and United operate flights to near enough the same destinations as from the other airports they operate from in North Dakota. Delta Airlines and United Airlines compete together on market share with Delta leading with 33% and United with 28%. Cargo operators are a bit more varied at this airport compared to the fields in North Dakota. Bemidji Airlines operate flights to Jamestown, followed by FedEx, Encore Air Cargo, Martinaire and UPS operating cargo services to destinations such as Aberdeen, Pierre, Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot, Rapid City, Indianapolis, Memphis, Calgary and Louisville etc.

Rapid City Regional Airport – Pennington County, South Dakota (RAP)

Featuring two runways, Rapid City Regional Airport has over 100 aircraft based at the airport and handles over 35,000 aircraft operations per year on average. The airport’s terminal building opened in 1988 and has been subjected to expansions worth $20.5 million which were completed in 2012. The expansion features 12,000 square feet of new floor space, additional jet bridges and one more boarding gate. The airport’s major expansion also included additional security areas, body scanners, and additional seating throughout the concourses.

Carriers such as Allegiant Air, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines and Connection and United Express operate services from the airport to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Houston respectively. No cargo carriers currently operate out of the airport. Out of the average operations per day, at least 60% of traffic counts towards General Aviation and only 5% is classified as airline traffic. Out of the 111 aircraft based at the airport, 70 are single-engined, 31 are multi-engined, eight are jets, one is a helicopter and the final aircraft is a glider.


Minot International Airport – Ward County, North Dakota (MOT)

Handling a maximum of 15 commercial flights per day from three different carriers, Minot International Airlines is an airport located two miles to the north of Minot. The airport has two runways and averages around 49,000 aircraft operations per year. Frontier Airlines used to operate into Minot as the airport’s fourth carrier but discontinued service in 2015 due to restructuring processes that were taking place within the airline.

Nowadays, carriers such as Allegiant, Delta and United dominate the market on service to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Denver. Delta also has the highest market share out of the airport carrying over 83,000 passengers to Minneapolis alone in the space of 12 months. Cargo carriers such Encore Air Cargo and FedEx dominate the market with service to Sioux Falls and Fargo respectively. The airport’s usage statistics have grown over the past seven years, with percentage increases in usage rising between 36 and 67%, showing rapid growth at the airport in particular.

Pierre Regional Airport – Hughes County, South Dakota (PIR)

The last airport of focus is Pierre Regional Airport. Featuring two asphalt runways, the airport averages 30,000 aircraft operations per year and has over 90 aircraft based at the airport. The airport has a history with military use when it was used by the US Army Air Forces for maintenance and supply operations. The airport was also used by the Sioux Falls Army Air Field as an auxiliary field for training on their B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft. Commercial services at Pierre Regional began in the 1950s when Western Airlines used Douglas DC-3 aircraft on flights to Denver. North Central Airlines joined the airport in the 1960’s, operating flights to Spearfish using DC-3’s before converting their equipment to Convair 340, 440 and 580 aircraft respectively.

Commercial operations are quite scarce at Pierre Regional. Great Lakes Jet Express, who are operated by Aerodynamics Inc, operate flights to Denver, Watertown and Minneapolis. They carry on average around 4,500 passengers per year due to the size of the airline and also the levels of demand at the airport. FedEx Feeder aircraft also operate out of the airport under the CSA Air name.

Overall, North and South Dakota have a significant number of airports, but few that are large in terms of size. The states have airports which ensure connections are maintained to destinations in the United States.



James Field
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  • James Field

    James is a passionate AvGeek who has been actively spotting for years. James has been an Aviation Enthusiast for 7 years and has a fond likening to Concorde! James hopes to grow in the aviation industry with journalism being his primary focus.

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