United Airlines Will Be First To Use New Williston Airport

When United Airlines flight number 4643 from Denver touches down Thursday morning at Williston, North Dakota, it will herald the opening of the first new major airport in the United States in 24 years. Owned by the city of Williston the $275 million airport plan was brought forward to help serve the demand created by the nearby Bakken oil fields.

new airport williston ND
Williston Basin International Airport was built due to the oil boom. Photo: XWA/Facebook

Given its full name Williston Basin International Airport (XWA) will coincide its opening with the closing of Williston’s Sloulin Field International Airport (ISN).

Just like at Denver United will be the first airline to land at XWA

The last time a major airport was shut down and a new one opened the same day was back in 1995 when Denver International Airport (DEN) opened to replace Stapleton International Airport as the gateway to the Rockies.

Sloulin Field airport
Sloulin Field Airport could only handle planes the size of an E145.Photo: Maarten Visser via Flickr

Interestingly it was again United Airlines who flew the first flight into Denver from the not so far away from Colorado Springs.

Given the regions booming oil and gas industry fuelled by the massive Bakken Formation, the city of Williston knew they needed to build a bigger facility to keep up with the area’s growth.

Sloulin Field could only handle smaller aircraft

The old Sloulin Field International Airport‘s biggest problem was that its 6,650-foot runway had a 90-foot elevation difference from one end to the other.

United Airlines E145
The new airport will be able to handle planes as big as a Boeing 757. Photo: Transport Pixels via Flickr

This difference limited carriers to the type of aircraft they could operate in and out of Williston which resulted in smaller 50 seat planes. When talking to CBS affiliated Channel 8 KPAX out of Missoula, Montana, Williston city administrator David Tuan said:

“We’re looking forward to the next 20 to 30 years of air service, bringing in more options for people.” “The opening of the new airport is catching the attention of aviation leaders across the region, including Billings.”

Billings’ director of aviation and transit Kevin Ploehn added by saying:

“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.”

The old airport couldn’t keep up with demand

When the oil boom came to North Dakota, the city’s old airport Sloulin Field found it hard to keep up with the demand. Facilities were upgraded in 2005 to handle 10,000 passengers a year, but by 2014 passenger numbers had increased to more than 120,000.

United Airlines Boeing 757
By 2014 120,000 passengers were using Sloulin Field Airport. Photo: RFBailey Wikimedia Commons

With the big increase in passenger numbers and building constraints at Sloulin Field, the decision to build a new airport from scratch was born.

Williston’s new airport has an executive lounge that is open to both passengers and crew members and a private terminal that will handle flights serving the oil industry. The airport will even have a purpose-built brewery/restaurant.

More importantly to all this will be a larger, better runway that can handle larger aircraft.

In just the last eight years the city of Williston has seen its permanent population double to 28,000 thanks largely to the jobs available in the oil field.