By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
Advocates of expanded air service in Missoula are hoping that incentive packages filled with resort stays and fly fishing excursions will go far in raising the revenue needed to entice new carriers to the market.
The Missoula County Airport Authority recently extended its contract with Missoula Economic Partnership to establish a revenue guarantee – an effort to create a funding pool to match federal grants needed to expand local air service.
“It hasn’t been determined how those packages are going to look,” said Paige Pavalone, who’s helping spearheading the effort for MEP. “We have to take what Missoula has to offer and make that available to people.”
Last September, MEP joined local business leaders and the Missoula County Airport Authority in unveiling a new study focused on revenue models used in nearly a dozen U.S. cities, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Redmond, Oregon.
After conducting the study, the local task force settled on a successful model used Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that offers incentive packages as a means to raise revenue. The packages provide different amenities based upon the size of the investment.
MEP is now looking for letters of commitment from local businesses.
“We have a goal for $1 million a year,” said Jenn Ewan with MEP. “That’s where Jackson Hole is at. We’re going to start with trying to get $500,000. Our package providers would be all the service-related industries that benefit from leisure travel in Missoula.”
Cris Jensen, director of Missoula International Airport, said airlines are asking communities to share the risk when entering new markets. The process has grown increasingly competitive, and other cities have already established or are working to create such incentive programs.
Expanded air service has been identified as a key to economic growth in Missoula.
“Airports aren’t permitted to pursue revenue guarantees, so MEP is serving as that community organizer,” Jensen said. “They’re going out to the businesses and frequent travelers and asking them to support a revenue guarantee.”
In January, American Airlines began nonstop service between Bozeman and Dallas/Forth Worth after receiving a revenue guarantee to cover any loss to the airline if it didn’t fill seats.
The new service was backed by a $650,000 Small Community Air Service Development grant. The grant was matched by support from Big Sky-area resorts and the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce.
Missoula had applied for the same grant but didn’t receive it last year. Jensen said the airport will try again this year. If successful, the grant would be matched by revenue raised locally.
“We’d like to have this in place for the next grant cycle,” Jensen said. “Dallas is still in our top 10 markets. We’re also talking Los Angeles and in-state service.”
Texas remains the only destination on Missoula’s top-10 market list that is currently not served, Jensen said.