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Number of people flying out of ND drops for third year in a row

FARGO - For the third year in a row, fewer people are flying out of North Dakota airports.

Commercial airport traffic dropped more than two percent in 2017 from the year before. That's about 23,000 fewer flyers.

It marks the third year in a row the state has seen a drop, but experts say it's not nearly as bad as the numbers might look.

Each day, as many as 1,500 people pull their bags through the doors at Hector International Airport. Hector Executive Director Shawn Dobberstein says there are several culprits for the statewide dip, including fewer northern neighbors flying out.

"The drop we've had is a number of Canadians we've had come down to Fargo and Grand Forks. It's down because of the exchange rate," Dobberstein said.

He also blames a shrinking number of pilots, as many age.

"Probably the biggest detriment to air service in the next few years is the massive number of retirements," Dobberstein said.

Still, Dobberstein says Fargo's numbers are on par with the norm.

"It's been very similar to our 2016 numbers."

Something the Aeronautics Committee says reflects the statewide trend.

"A 1.8 percent decrease is pretty much negligible. It's only 14,000 fewer passengers than the previous year," said Dobberstein.

The decrease has had little economic impact on the state's commercial airlines. In fact, the numbers are still promising compared to a decade ago.

"If we went back to 2008, we weren't forecasting a million passengers until the year 2035," Dobberstein said.

Even if slightly fewer people are pulling their bags across the state, experts are confident the industry isn't nose-diving anytime soon.

Grand Forks took the largest hit in traffic from year to year, losing nearly 11 percent of traffic in 2017.

In Fargo, once charter flights are factored in, 2017 was nearly identical to 2016.

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