2020 Airport Business Project of the Year: Williston Basin International Airport

June 11, 2020
  • Location: Williston Basin International Airport (XWA)
  • Project: New airport construction 
  • Cost: $270 million
  • Completion: October
  • Key Participants: Ulteig, KLJ, Burns & McDonnell, Alliiance, JE Dunn, Chrysalis Global

On Oct. 10, the new Williston Basin International Airport (XWA) in Williston, North Dakota celebrated its grand opening, replacing the 70-year-old Sloulin Field International Airport (ISN). Owned by the city of Williston, the $270 million all-encompassing project was designed to meet the flying needs of Williston’s current and future travelers and community.

The state of North Dakota, Federal Aviation Administration, and city of Williston collaborated to build an airport that was flexible, right-sized and efficient. XWA was the first new greenfield airport in the U.S. to be built from the ground up within the past nine years.

Williston Airport Director Anthony Dudas said the new airport is a product of planning and teamwork which began in 2010 during the economic boom due to hydraulic fracturing for energy.  The planning process utilized public input from the community, airport users, businesses, federal, state and local leadership to define the region’s air service future and the facilities required to accommodate that growth. 

“The city of Williston developed a robust team of professional service providers to monitor and communicate ongoing construction progress throughout the duration of the airport relocation project,” he said.  “We had five separate engineering firms involved in this project and more than thirty separate prime contracts active at the same time.  It was important to the city that we had an overall program coordinator, Ulteig Engineers, to provide oversight and coordination to all other engineers and contractors.”

The new terminal designed by Alliiance and constructed by JE Dunn features ample seating, a restaurant and lounge, jet bridges and dedicated mother’s care area. While the new terminal is the public show piece for XWA, this project included every aspect necessary for airport operations.

The XWA project built an airport with utility infrastructure of a small city in the plains of North Dakota, 12 miles from the old airport. The design teams of KLJ and Burns & McDonnell developed plans for the multiple projects involved in the greenfield airport and these were collectively managed by Ulteig.

“Burns & McDonnell was honored to provide aviation design, engineering and construction services on several projects for the ground-up construction of the Williston Basin International Airport,” said Andy Loftus, project manager and civil engineer for Burns & McDonnell. “From the general aviation apron to airfield electric systems, we worked hand-in-hand with the airport and our partners to deliver a state-of-the-art commercial airport in North Dakota. As the fastest-built commercial airport since World War II, collaboration and communication were key to meeting the aggressive timeline and executing successful projects. We look forward to future collaborations with the airport and City of Williston to continue delivering critical infrastructure projects to the community.”

Williston brought on Cardon Global as the owner’s representative, to be another set of eyes for the city on these projects and keep city leadership apprised of the pertinent information they needed to have.

Williston brought on a transition consultant Chrysalis Global Aviation, to ensure all stakeholders were kept up to date on schedules and information relating to the overnight relocation from Sloulin Field International Airport (ISN) to XWA.

Individual projects within the greenfield airport project include a new runway/taxiway for larger aircraft, new parking lots, new fuel farm, new FBO co-located with a new customs facility, new Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting operations facility, new Snow Removal Equipment maintenance facility, new FAA navaids, new rental car facility and space for general aviation hangars. 

The XWA Airport project was designed with expansion in mind; there are increased general aviation areas and new expandable facilities for FBO and cargo operations. The terminal was also designed with expansion capabilities from the current four gates up to twelve gates.

Dudas said the new facility is designed to accommodate the design aircraft, Airbus A321 and all smaller.  The city made a conscious decision to add an additional inch of concrete on all commercial aircraft pavements to provide additional flexibility for larger aircraft over the 30-year lifespan of our pavements.  That additional inch was locally funded and changed the weight bearing capacity from 150,000 lbs to about 255,000 lbs. 

“The new XWA terminal has 4 gates with 3 passenger boarding bridges and ample seating in the concourse for added passenger comfort,” he said. “The concourse also features a full-service restaurant and bar, children’s play area, and mother’s care area which were not available at the old facility. Future airline growth was also planned for with space readily available for a third airline including ticket counters and office spaces.

Airport Operational Readiness and move management was conducted by Chrysalis, which enabled an overnight transition from a security category IV airport to a category III airport. With this change the new airport increased security by adding a law enforcement presence, automated baggage screening equipment and increased checkpoint capacity.

“While we feel we had an excellent plan in place to complete the transition, it is impossible to think of everything which may come up during the move,” Dudas said. “Having the mindset that certain items may not go as planned or that certain items may not be planned for is critical to communicate to the team.  Having the communication plan in place to identify and create a solution for these unforeseen items will allow for the group to work through these items together.”

XWA services northwestern North Dakota and Eastern Montana and the current commercial operators are Delta via MSP and United via DEN. Additionally, the new terminal already includes the capability to add a third commercial operator providing potential for additional destinations.

The complexity of the simultaneous projects entailed several potential schedule breaking events. In September, the region saw a record 8.09” of rain. Rail cars slated to bring concrete materials to XWA were caught behind flood waters in the Midwest. Those are just two examples of the hurdles everyone on the project team had to overcome.

“To add to the challenge, it snowed the evening of October 9, as well,” Dudas said. “The contractors worked through this very challenging environment and we even had our public works department and City Administrator on the airfield assisting with overnight cleanup.”

The $270 million Williston Basin International Airport project is billed as “The People’s Airport.” Commencement of operations took place a mere three years to the day after the official groundbreaking ceremony, which was held Oct. 10, 2016.