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America’s Newest Airport Comes to Life

A look at Williston Basin Airport (Photo: Williston Basin Airport)

During this day and age, usable land is at a minimum and it’s not often that an airport opens its doors to commercial service for the first time, and it’s even rarer when an airport is built completely from scratch. But that’s exactly what happened in small-town Williston, N.D.

Williston is a small city in North Dakota with a population of roughly 27,000, the previous airport of Sloulin Field only received five daily flights between two carriers to two cities. So why did a city so small with so few flights need a completely new airport? Williston Basin Airport cites several reasons why the new airport was necessary, which all lead to one main point; it didn’t meet Federal Aviation Administration standards.

The FAA standards Sloulin didn’t meet include having too steep of a runway slope, taxiway being too close to the runway, and the pavement wasn’t strong enough to handle aircraft used by Delta, United, and larger corporate jets which required load hits for all flights. Previously the largest commercial aircraft handled at the airport were the CRJ-200 and ERJ-145 by Delta and United respectively.

Officials from the surrounding towns fought for years to keep the airport where it was as relocation would displace farmers and force them off land families have been on for generations. After years of back and forth between state and local officials, the decision was made to relocate the airport to a plot of farmland roughly 14 miles northwest of Williston.

Construction on the new airport began on Oct. 10, 2016 and opened for its first flight on the morning of Oct. 10, 2019; exactly three years after construction began. The previous land where Sloulin currently stands will be sold and re-purposed for development as it’s near the center of the city, according to Williston Basin Airport the proceeds from the sale will be used to pay for the city’s share of the relocation project.

The new airport features a modern 108,000 square foot terminal with three jetways, a 7,500 feet main runway, an increase from 6,650 feet at Sloulin, and room to grow further in the future if necessary. Changes in service due to the weight restrictions being lifted are already being noticed by airport officials, too.

On Nov. 4, 2020, Delta plans to up-gauge one of its two daily flights between Minneapolis St. Paul from a 50-seat CRJ-200 to the larger 69-seat CRJ-700, and again on Dec. 20 from the CRJ-700 to the 76-seat CRJ-900. On Oct. 28 United will replace two of its four flights to Denver to the Embraer E175, although this will reduce the total daily seats United brings to Williston by 24 it will mark the first arrival of an aircraft with first class.

The first flight into the new Williston Basin International Airport on Oct. 10 was due to be United flight 4643 from Denver at 10:50 a.m., but the flight was delayed by three hours and 35 minutes according to United’s website. Instead, the first flight was Delta flight 4007 from Minneapolis St. Paul which arrived at 11:34 a.m. local time.

It’s not every day an airport is built completely from scratch, and so new that the completed airport isn’t visible on most map sites. The city states that they will continue to work with airlines to bring new service to the region, but it is too early to have any commitments.

Joey Gerardi


  • Joey Gerardi

    Joe has always been interested in planes, for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Central New York during the early 2000s when US Airways Express turboprops ruled the skies. Being from a non-aviation family made it harder for him to be around planes and would only spend about three hours a month at the airport. He was so excited when he could drive by himself and the first thing he did with the license was get ice cream and go plane spotting for the entire day. When he has the time (and money) he likes to take spotting trips to any location worth a visit. He’s currently enrolled at Western Michigan University earning a degree in Aviation Management and Operations.

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