The opening of the new Williston Basin International Airport in North Dakota will mark the first new major airport in the U.S. since Denver International Airport opened its gates in 1995.
The $275 million, city-owned facility was spurred by a demand for travel in the nearby Bakken oil fields, but officials in Williston say they see the development fulfilling long-term needs.
“We’re looking forward to the next 20 to 30 years of air service, bringing in more options for people," said David Tuan, Williston city administrator. The opening of the new airport is catching the attention of aviation leaders across the region, including Billings.
“You have to build all that infrastructure underneath, get all the lights and all that – so it’s an expensive deal. And then to build a new terminal from scratch and then try to move everybody over – that’s a challenge, absolutely a challenge – I’m glad it’s them and not me," said Kevin Ploehn, Billings director of aviation and transit.
Ploehn is in the middle of his own major project, an expansion of the Logan International terminal with the city's future growth in mind.
“That’s why this concourse- instead of five gates we have now, we’ll have eight. And the design is built so you can just add on to the ends very easily and get up to at least 12 gates. So, we’ll be well-staged for the future growth of Billings – no matter if it’s slow or fast," he said.
In Williston, the new XWA airport project has been underway since 2016, sitting on 1,600 acres 10 miles northwest of town.
The city's old airport, Sloulin Field, found itself overwhelmed in the Bakken boom and needed an upgrade. When it was remodeled in 2005, it was designed to handle up to 10,000 passenger boardings a year.
By 2014, the passenger count topped 120,000, more than 10 times the projections.
The big increase in air traffic, plus expansion constraints at the old airport, forced Williston leaders to rethink their future aviation plans, and the XWA project was born.
The new facility features its own brewery restaurant, executive lounges for both passengers and crews, and a private terminal designed specifically for flights handling oil-labor crew changes.
Plus, the new wider, longer runways also can accommodate larger planes, a major improvement over the smaller regional jets that serve Williston today.
The new Williston airport might result in more flights to and from Billings, Ploehn says, but those decision are driven by passenger demand.
As for the Billings airport remodeling project, the first phase got underway last week, which involves moving the current deli and building a temporary gate underneath the B concourse.
The entire $55 million project is due for completion by mid-2023.