Development of the Bakken oil fields proved too much for one small airport to handle, but help is on the way.
The FAA has announced a $27 million grant to the city of Williston, North Dakota, to purchase land for a new airport sized to handle the traffic that has increased tenfold in six years, crowding the ramps and traffic pattern of Sloulin Field International Airport with business jets, piston singles, and regional jets. The effects of the oil boom are manifest in satellite images, FAA data, and in the radio traffic between pilots negotiating their arrivals and departures.
The hectic pace is expected to increase: According to the FAA, passenger counts at Sloulin jumped tenfold between 2008 and 2014 from 10,894 to 114,281. More growth is expected. The city, the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, and the FAA have collaborated to create XWA, as the new airport, Williston Basin International, will be identified. Officials hope to have it open in 2018, and the process is well underway. The environmental assessment is complete and uncovered no “significant environmental concerns,” the FAA noted.
“AOPA is pleased to see both the FAA and State of North Dakota make such a great stride forward to accommodating the huge influx of commercial and general aviation aircraft servicing western North Dakota and the oil fields,” said AOPA Great Lakes Regional Manager Bryan Budds. “The massive need for aviation infrastructure in North Dakota shows just how critically important our nation’s airports are to remote areas of the country.”
The $27 million Airport Improvement Program grant announced Oct. 6 will cover the cost, less the local government share, of purchasing 1,540 acres for the new airport, which is expected to cost $254 million in all, and will be built in phases.
An FAA-funded study determined that Sloulin Field is constrained by surrounding development and expanding it would not be feasible. The study recommended building a new airport in a different location that could safely accommodate current and future demand.