By Martin Kidsdton
In the same week Missoula International Airport announced year-round service to Los Angeles, it also learned it had been approved for a federal grant to help bring another carrier to the Garden City.
Signs suggest that the carrier will be American Airlines with nonstop service into the Texas market.
Cris Jensen on Friday confirmed that Missoula had been awarded a $600,000 Small Community Air Service Development grant. The federal program is designed to help small communities address air service and airfare issues.
Matched with local funding, it could be enough to entice American Airlines to Missoula.
“We’re targeting service to Texas, either Houston or Dallas,” Jensen said. “We’re setting a meeting to go to Dallas to meet with American (Airlines). We’ll know something by fall.”
In January, American Airlines began nonstop service between Bozeman and Dallas/Forth Worth after the city packaged 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. This time, however, the airport succeeded.
“We’ll get $600,000 from the grant and have $400,000 in a local match,” Jensen said. “The idea is to offer incentive to an airline to begin a route they might not begin. We’ll provide a minimum revenue guarantee to the airline.”
This week, members of the local Air Service Task Force and Missoula Economic Partnership also reported progress in creating a revenue tool going into the future.
Dozens of local businesses have donated incentive packages to the cause, which MEP will sell to investors. The revenue will be pooled to help airlines bring new or expanded routes into Missoula.
“We want more direct flights to major hubs across the U.S.,” said Jenn Ewan, vice president of MEP. “The business traveler will see a price reduction if they book enough in advance with the airline. That will force competition to drop prices. But we really want to focus on the tourism aspect, getting people here.”
Local businesses had already invested $400,000 into the revenue program in an effort to entice American Airlines into the market. With funding from the federal grant and in-kind services from the airport, the entire package is valued at roughly $1.2 million, Jensen said.
“American gave us a letter of support,” he added. “That was received as a good indication that if we got the (FAA) grant, they’d begin flying the service.”
Earlier this week, Allegiant Airlines announced it would expand to year-round its seasonal service to Los Angeles.
Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org