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Officials: New airline schedule to make Grand Forks airport more attractive

GRAND FORKS - Grand Forks officials are praising a decision by Delta Air Lines on Tuesday to move an evening flight from the Twin Cities to the local airport an hour earlier.

This would close what some jokingly call the "gap of death" between the afternoon and evening flights to Grand Forks that's made flying in and out of Fargo more attractive to many business travelers.

Under the new schedule, Grand Forks-bound passengers could get home an hour earlier in the evening.

For business travelers, scheduling now is a bigger concern than differences in pricing, said Hal Gershman, a businessman and member of the Grand Forks airport commission.

He's been fighting the so-called "leakage" of Grand Forks passengers to Fargo for years and, for three of those years, he said he'd pushed for scheduling changes.

"I'm tickled pink," he said Tuesday to news that the gap between afternoon and evening flights was closing.

Airport director Steve Johnson said he's excited, too, though the gap is still not quite ideal. "It's not a complete solution, but it's an improvement."

He said he understands the new schedule would begin in May.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who met with Delta chief executive Richard Anderson on Tuesday, announced the scheduling changes in a press release. Delta is merging with Northwest Airlines, which now serves Grand Forks International Airport.

Fargo vs. Grand Forks

The scheduling gap now occurs from 2:35 p.m., when the last afternoon flight departs from the Twin Cities until 8:10 p.m., when the first evening flight departs. That's a gap of almost six hours.

The new evening flight would depart at about 7:15 p.m.

With the six-hour gap, the traveler has the option of ending whatever business meeting he or she has in the Twin Cities -- for example, at 12:35 p.m. to get to the airport or the traveler can wait until the 8:10 flight leaves for Grand Forks.

In contrast, Fargo's airport has a Twin Cities flight departing at 5:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. A traveler from Grand Forks could take the 6:45 p.m. flight, arrive in Fargo at 7:44 p.m. and still drive home by 9 p.m.

Closing Grand Forks' gap by an hour would mean the traveler could get home by about 8:30 p.m.

Ideally, Johnson said, the evening flight would be somewhere in the middle of the gap, about 5:30 or 6 p.m.

Northwest has told him in the past that it didn't feel it would get the best usage out of its aircraft by providing flights at those hours, he said.