Bigger Aircraft Means Mainline Service Returns to Grand Forks International Airport for First Time Since 2005

March 22, 2023
Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines changed a morning commercial flight from Grand Forks to Minneapolis from a 76-seat regional aircraft to a 110-seat Delta mainline aircraft as demand for flights is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mar. 21—GRAND FORKS — Mainline commercial service has returned to Grand Forks International Airport for the first time in 18 years.

Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines changed a morning commercial flight from Grand Forks to Minneapolis from a 76-seat regional aircraft to a 110-seat Delta mainline aircraft.

The switch to the Boeing 717 in the mornings comes as demand for flights is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, although airlines are still struggling with a national pilot shortage, said Ryan Riesinger, executive director of the Grand Forks Airport Authority. The change increases the number of seats per day on flights to Minneapolis by 34.

"That gets us much closer to the number of seats we had prior to the pandemic, which is a positive sign," said Riesinger.

The last time Grand Forks had mainline service was in 2005, through Northwest Airlines, said Riesinger.

By using a larger aircraft, like the Boeing 717, airlines can keep the same number of flights and the same number of pilots, but increase the number of available seats in a day. The larger jets are also more cost-efficient, especially with elevated fuel prices.

"That's actually a good thing," said Riesinger. " Delta has recognized that our market is recovering and they're wanting to put more seats in our market."

The shift to larger aircraft can be seen across the industry, said Riesinger.

"In most markets, we're not seeing all the flights return. We're seeing larger aircraft and more seats returned, but not necessarily more flights for the time being," he said.

Before Delta made the change, all three Grand Forks flights to Minneapolis were on 76-seat regional aircraft. Now, with one mainline jet and two regional jets, the average number of seats per day has increased from 228 to 262.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Grand Forks had an average of five commercial flights to Minneapolis each day on one 76-seat jet and four 50-seat jets, for a total of 276 seats each day.

" Delta made the change and recognized the demand was there, and now it's on us to do the best we can to fill them up to be able to justify it staying," said Riesinger.

Riesinger said the peak period for Grand Forks International Airport is November through mid-March as people from the Grand Forks region and Manitoba take trips to warmer places. During this time period through mid-May,

Allegiant Air runs flights from Grand Forks to Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport and Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Allegiant also runs flights from Grand Forks to Las Vegas all year.

Moving forward, continuing to expand service in Grand Forks is a high priority for the airport, said Riesinger.

"We've had multiple communications with Delta and Allegiant ... as well as other carriers, just to make them aware of the Grand Forks market and the opportunities that may exist when they're ready to expand or add more seats, flights or service," Riesinger said.


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