Devils Lake Airport is seeing record numbers of passengers flying in and out based on statistics provided by airport manager John Nord.

Devils Lake Airport is seeing record numbers of passengers flying in and out based on statistics provided by Airport Manager John Nord.

Nord, who has been on the job for eight years, says that the numbers are approaching a significant milestone.

“Right now we’re on track for just about 6,500 boardings,” Nord said. “When we’re at 6,500, I need 3,500 more people, because right now the airport gets $150K a year for airport improvement projects money. $150K doesn’t go that far on projects, but once I get to the 10,000 number, I get $1M a year. It’s really important to get up to that number.”

The major increase in project money would go a long way toward addressing upgrades at the airport, including tending to the crosswind runway.

“(The) crosswind runway is in dire need of being milled and resurfaced,” Nord said. “It’s around $2M to do that. We’re going to do the design work this winter (and) we’ll have it ready to bid next summer.”

Even without reaching the lofty goal of 10,000 boardings in a year, Nord reports that the airport is in fine shape, and the numbers show that boardings are way up from 2015 thus far.

February’s boardings this year were 612, up from 307 in 2015. In fact, every month has seen a sharp increase, which Nord attributes to several factors.

“We’re the only airport in the northeast that flies west,” Nord said. “I started looking at the numbers because I wasn’t sure we wanted to go west. All of sudden, about 60 percent of North Dakotans travel west when they leave (the region).

“In about an hour and 15 minutes after the wheels are up, it’s setting down in Denver,” Nord added. “What a sweet deal this is.”

Nord says that he has worked to get the word out about the advantages of flying out of Devils Lake.

“I do a lot of radio advertising. We do (advertising) in the paper, a little bit of TV advertising,” Nord said. “The biggest way to promote it is word of mouth. People talk about it, they get used to it, and we’ll make it work.”

A unique feature of DL Airport, as opposed to many others, is free parking for travelers.

“Free parking is a big deal,” Nord said. “If you’re a traveler and you’ve been on vacation for a week and you’re coming back and you’re tired, you’re hungover, you’re broke, and you have to pay 80 bucks to get your car out, it’s not a great time.”

Another area that Nord says needs to be addressed is snow removal. A state-of-the-art snow removal machine that Nord has his eye on could cost about $750K, though he reports that he has feelers out to find used equipment to do the job.

The added runway creates the need for the equipment, and extra $850K from the FAA based on 10,000 annual passengers would be a big boost, according to Nord.

“We’re under a crunch in a snowstorm,” Nord said. “We have commercial flights, we have (limited) time to get the runway opened up, and if we don’t have the equipment to do it, it isn’t a good situation.”

Besides providing passenger service, Nord says that medical flights are a significant part of airport operations, which also underlines the need for snow removal equipment during a harsh North Dakota winter.

“My guys are on call for life flight. Everybody thinks life flight now is a helicopter, and it’s not,” Nord said. “We get a lot of fixed-wing aircraft that fly in to pick up folks and fly them out.”

The big upswing in passengers is encouraging, and Nord continues to promote the airport as a major boon to the region.

“Prior to this year, we were never over 600 (passengers in a month),” Nord said. “We’re doing good, we just encourage everybody to take a look at us. Use Devils Lake Airport.”