The Commute From Houston To Williston Just Got Shorter

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Sloulin Field International Airport

The first direct United Airlines flight from Houston to Williston lands with watery fanfare on Tuesday

That’s right folks: Houston oil executives, and anyone else with between $600 and $1300, can jump on a plane directly from the “Oil Capital of the World” to the capital of the northern plains energy boom – Williston, North Dakota.

The new daily United Airlines route from Houston to Williston landed its first 50-seat plane this Tuesday, where it was greeted by ceremonial jets of water from trucks flanking the runway.

The manager of Williston’s tiny Sloulin Field International Airport, Steven Kjergaard, said it’s big news for the town. Major airlines United and Delta just started flying into Williston a couple of years ago, but those flights were only to Denver and Minneapolis.

It’s not only oil field workers who have already been using the Houston flight.

“I saw at least two families get off the airplane,” Kjergaard said of the first flight.

The population of Williston has exploded in the last decade. As reported in the Dickinson Press, this new flight from Houston helps the tiny Sloulin Field International Airport, but is far from meeting the crushing appetite for flights into the Bakken oil play.

“We’re pretty far away from meeting our current demand,” Kjergaard said.

The airport is working on a major expansion or relocation, to be completed in 2017. The current airport has outgrown its capacity: Kjergaard is expecting between 100,000 and 120,000 people to come through in 2014, although the airport is only designed to handle 6,000 to 10,000 passengers a year. A new terminal would allow for about 250,000 annual passengers, with a longer runway made of stronger materials to handler bigger planes.

Our North Dakota Reporter, Emily Guerin, keeps a blog about what it’s like to be a newcomer living in oil country. Check out “Inside the Boom.”