Booming car rental business prompts airport to revisit plans for new facility

A customer rents a car from the Enterprise counter at Missoula International Airport this week. The airport may revisit plans to build a larger consolidated rental car facility to accommodate the increase in business. (Photo by Martin Kidston)


Growth in the local rental car market has prompted the Missoula International Airport to consider plans to build a larger “quick turn” facility sooner than anticipated.

Airport director Cris Jensen said initial plans for the airport timed the construction of a new consolidated car rental facility to a $42 million renovation and expansion of the airport’s main passenger terminal.

But that project is still years away and the rental car business may not be able to wait that long, Jensen said this week.

“We always assumed it would be an element of the terminal project, and that we’d be doing it at the same time using the same funding package,” Jensen said. “Based on what we’re seeing now – what we’re hearing from the rental car companies – we might need to accelerate the project.”

Several companies serve the Missoula airport, including Alamo, Avis, Hertz and Enterprise. Airport officials met recently with the rental car companies, which have reported growth in the local market and an increase in vehicles.

“Their revenues are way up, and the number of cars in their fleet are way up,” Jensen said. “Our quick-turn facility is not big enough to accommodate the level of activity that we’re seeing.”

Jensen said the airport has the funding sources to consider a project sooner rather than later. It receives $3 for every day a vehicle is under contract. The so-called “contract facility charge” generates roughly $500,000 a year, he said.

The amount will likely increase with growth in the rental car business.

“We do have some preliminary designs Morrison-Maierle worked on,” Jensen said. “We need to sit down as a staff and map the strategy forward on that. It’s likely coming sooner than the terminal project.”

The airport is also working to hire a consulting team to begin planning for a new passenger terminal. Like the rental car facility, growth in the number of passengers arriving to and leaving from Missoula continues to increase, resulting in gate crowding and other complications.

More than 350,000 passengers boarded a flight from Missoula last year – a new record. New flights are coming online this year and several carriers, including Frontier, are adding larger planes, meaning 2016 could be another record year.

“We’ll have 452,000 available seats in our market this year,” said Brian Ellested, deputy airport director. “If we were to sell 90 percent of those seats, we’d become a small-hub airport.”