In May, 5,389 passengers boarded commercial flights at Grand Forks International. In May 2020, during the height of the pandemic, only 334 left GFK on commercial flights.

While not yet back to pre-pandemic levels – the airport averaged about 8,700 commercial travelers each May from 2017 through 2019 – numbers likely will jump again when the U.S.-Canada border finally reopens.

What’s good at Grand Forks International is good for Grand Forks as a whole, and vice versa. The passenger uptick hints at a return to business-as-usual in the region.

More good airline industry news: Denver Air Connection has, by initial appearances, filled an important need in Thief River Falls, a city that also is seeing an increase in airport use.

As reported last week by the Herald, the small airline apparently is working well as a carrier at the Thief River Falls airport, which serves a community of approximately 9,000 with regular flights to Minneapolis. Having an airline in a town that size is a luxury indeed, and especially when a larger airport – Grand Forks International – is only an hour down the road.

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Denver Air replaced Boutique Air a year ago this month and is meeting its contractually-mandated 12 round-trip flights per week. Denver Air’s jet planes are bigger than those used by its predecessor, and through May, 3,717 passengers have taken off this year from Thief River Falls. Joe Hedrick, the airport manager, said the airport is on track to have some of its highest passenger numbers in more than 30 years.

How does this all affect Grand Forks International?

During a discussion with the Herald last week, Jon Coleman, Denver Air’s director of business development, said the company has been in early discussions with Grand Forks International about potentially starting regular flights to Denver. The flight could potentially start in Thief River Falls, stop briefly to pick up passengers in Grand Forks and continue on to Denver.

At present, Grand Forks International has no direct flights to Denver. To go there, passengers must first fly to Minneapolis, then connect to a flight to Denver. Or, it’s possible Denver-bound passengers simply drive to another airport, taking their business out of town.

The possibility of a Denver flight from Grand Forks is just a conversation for now, but talk can sometimes lead to bigger things.

“Certainly the possibility of Denver Air Connection, and/or others, adding service is something we continue to have conversations about and would be a very positive development for GFK and the community,” Grand Forks International Airport Executive Director Ryan Riesinger said this week.

Grand Forks certainly would benefit from a direct flight to Denver. It would add ease for west-bound travelers and provide more incentive for local and regional travelers to start trips here rather than at other airports.

Grand Forks has a modern, clean and convenient airport, and anything – everything – that can be done to convince more passengers to start their trips here will only add to the airport’s importance and future stability.

Even the possibility of regular flights to Denver stirs optimism after a year that saw the industry as a whole – not just at GFK – ravaged by the pandemic.