Despite COVID, North Dakota’s non-commercial aviation sector speeds up on runway
The airmen say it’s no surprise. A decade after the oil boom began, North Dakota has seen investments in airports statewide, as well as long-lasting flight training programs like those of the UND. Now all of these investments in the industry are taking off.
“Getting from Grand Forks to Williston isn’t easy,” UND aviation professor Kim Kenville said this month. The same goes for Dickinson or Fargo or any business traveler in the area.
In North Dakota, car trips can be long and there is no intra-state airline. This has led companies to do it themselves.
“A lot of North Dakota businesses see the value in being able to get statewide in a short time,” Kenville added. “It’s just the only way to do it.”
This economic pressure – combined with many opportunities for all other travelers – makes a big difference. The state’s aviation industry saw a 30% increase in airline transactions in 2019, from 118 to 153, according to the North Dakota Aeronautical Commission. This was followed by another strong performance in 2020 at 148 aircraft.
The transactions for these two years are almost as much as the previous three years combined.
“First and foremost, I would say the attitude and culture of North Dakota aviation is the primary driver,” said Kyle Wanner, chief of the North Dakota Aeronautical Commission.
The same surge in aircraft transactions can be seen in the NDAC data on the collection of excise duties. This is the 5% tax applied to these transactions, or 3% for dust collectors. For the 2020-2021 biennium, which ends this summer, those tax collections amount to nearly $ 5.5 million and it counts. That’s millions more than the average for collections over a decade.
The bump in aviation comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a dramatic effect on commercial air travel and manufacturers. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association describes 2020 as a disaster for producers.
“The value of aircraft deliveries fell 16% from 2019. Every segment of the industry has suffered losses,” says a GAMA report for 2020, “some more than others”.
But North Dakota’s transaction numbers have persisted. Wanner points out that the low interest rates made this a good time to buy, and many buyers might have traded or bought used planes.
This means that while aircraft manufacturers have suffered, aircraft buyers have fared much better. The Financial Post reports WHEREAS pre-owned business jets saw their worldwide sales increase by 5.2% in 2020; new purchases, however, fell by around 20%.
Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft, which has a manufacturing facility in Grand Forks, was not spared either, slashing its workforce by around 100 workers through the pandemic before looking to expand again. this spring. Ben Kowalski, the company’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, said production had been held back by grunts from the supply chain.
“It takes a lot of parts to build an airplane, and we all need them to build the airplane. You cannot not have a part and complete it. So we had a few suppliers who found themselves in difficult situations and were unable to continue shipping, ”Kowalski told the Duluth News-Tribune in early March.
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But the pandemic is passing and Cirrus’ job numbers are rebounding.
“Airports across the country, as well as in the state, are seeing a drop of about 30-40% (in passenger traffic) from where we were in 2019,” said Ryan Riesinger, executive director of the Grand Forks International Airport. “But it’s still a significant improvement from where we were last year at that time. That’s kind of where we are on the coronavirus front.”
NDAC member Kenville said the pandemic had much less impact than one might have feared on the UND aviation program, where she said she barely noticed a slowdown in air traffic. students who reported for flight training. And as Airmen look to the future, there is still a long way to go to propel North Dakota into the next generation of flight.
More planes will mean a need for more hangars. New types of aviation fuel will mean more types of pumping stations. The list goes on.
Wanner said this is where the growing excise tax revenue will go.
“Really, the majority of the funding that we provide, the point is to give it back directly to the communities,” said Wanner.