Grand Forks International is number one for a day, but operations still decreased

The Byron L. Dorgan Terminal at the Grand Forks International Airport. John Hageman / Grand Forks Herald

Passenger numbers are slowly beginning to pick up at Grand Forks International Airport, and the number of flight operations made the airport the busiest in the nation for a day in June.

UND flight training accounted for the majority of those operations, even though the school is operating at about half of normal. The more than 1,200 takeoffs and landings on June 18 were enough to push GFK to number one, though that number only goes to underscore how seriously impacted air travel in the nation has been since the onset of the pandemic.

Ryan Riesinger, executive director of GFK, said flight operations were up to 2,000 per day in February and March, which put the airport in the top five nationally, in terms of operations. The numbers for June and the ranking show the current state of air travel, he said.

β€œThat tells you what is happening nationally,” Riesinger said at an airport board meeting.

Still, there are signs that traffic is picking up. Chief among them, as far as GFK goes, is the reopening of regular casino business in Las Vegas. Allegiant Air, which in April asked the Department of Transportation for a waiver to the region, is now offering one or sometimes two flights per week. The closure of the Canadian border has only added to the slowdown, limiting the number of Canadians who can fly from Grand Forks. The border could reopen on July 21, unless the closure is again extended.


Delta, in another sign of good news for GFK, has changed the departure time of its daily flight to Minneapolis. Previously, the airline left Grand Forks in the evening, making it impossible for travelers to catch a connecting flight. Flights now depart at 6:30 a.m., which makes layovers there longer, but allows for better access to the national flight system.

Other takeaways from the airport board meeting:

  • Maintenance crews are using down time to fill cracks on the main runway, and to repaint. That project is nearly complete.
  • GFK is now set to begin spending some of the $18.5 million in CARES Act money awarded to it in April. The airport will submit reimbursement requests to the Federal Aviation Administration for expenses it authorizes. Up next: a nearly $97,000 project to repair pavement leading up to the control tower and UND Aerospace facility.
  • The airport board is pushing to complete, by the end of the year, an environmental assessment related to the expansion of the crosswind runway. The FAA has expressed concern about adverse effects on whooping cranes, should commercial carriers begin to use it. The project is part of the airport's 10-year master plan for capital improvement. The runway is used for general aviation and UND training. Commercial airlines are not able to use the runway, but should be able to do so after the expansion. In the future, when the project is complete, GFK will have two runways able to be used by commercial carriers, which means the main runway can be shut down for repair without a loss of flight service to the region.
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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