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John Hageman, Forum News Service, Published September 12 2013

United to end Grand Forks flights

GRAND FORKS - United Airlines will cease service between Grand Forks and Denver after Dec. 3, the company announced Wednesday afternoon.

“The financial performance of the flights did not meet our expectations,” United said in a statement Wednesday.

The airline began offering direct daily flights between the Grand Forks International Airport and Denver in October 2012. Earlier last year, airport Executive Director Patrick Dame said it had been “the No. 1 goal of the Airport Authority for the past 20 years.”

“We worked hard to get them here,” Grand Forks City Council President Hal Gershman said Wednesday. “Again, with airlines, people need to understand it’s ‘use it or lose it.’ ”

Gershman, a commissioner on the Regional Airport Authority, was active in recruiting United to Grand Forks.

Two months after service began, Dame said flights had been about half full. However, he acknowledged new routes tend to have fewer passengers than established routes.

Dame said in December United wasn’t showing concern over the new service.

United had previously flown between Grand Forks and Denver, as well as Grand Forks and Winnipeg, but ended that service in 1989 because of low boarding numbers in Winnipeg. The airline said in a statement Wednesday that it would contact customers currently booked to either accommodate them on another flight or provide a refund.

“The airport and our connections to other cities are very important from an economic development standpoint,” said Klaus Thiessen, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. “So we’re very disappointed.”

Mayor Mike Brown also said he was disappointed in the decision, but complimented airport officials and others who attracted the Chicago-based airline.

“I think as our market grows, they’ll reevaluate,” he said of United, one of three airlines flying out of Grand Forks along with Allegiant and Delta.

Brown said the announcement was somewhat of a surprise, considering boarding numbers at the Grand Forks airport have climbed from 80,700 in 2007 to 135,500 in 2012. In 2012, United recorded 4,282 boardings and was projected to reach 20,715 for the year, according to a presentation Dame gave the City Council last week.

“But if it doesn’t fit in their market strategy presently, it doesn’t mean it won’t fit in their market strategy in the future,” Brown said. “And we’re open to that.”

United Airlines also has connections to Denver from Fargo.