By Martin Kidston
Ten months after launching charter flights between Missoula and Billings, Neptune Aviation has seen its passenger counts grow and the service rise in popularity within the business community.
Neptune, widely regarded for its aerial firefighting service, launched the nonstop charter flight last September. The service boasts no waiting lines, no tickets and free parking. Passengers need not remove their shoes before boarding the plane.
“We’re extremely pleased with the support the community has give us,” said Kevin Condit, marketing manager for Neptune. “We did a lot of research before we launched it. We’re pleased with the success and not that surprised by it.”
Neptune’s charter flights leave Missoula every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:45 a.m., arriving in Billings by 9 a.m. The return trip departs at 4:45 p.m. and arrives back in Missoula by 6:15.
The service offers customers a variety of membership choices, ranging from one round trip per month to four. A one-way ticket currently fetches $375, and guest passes are available when seats are open.
“The vast majority of our customers are business travelers,” Condit said. “We get a lot of medical professionals, engineers, sales people and attorneys. We also get the occasional leisure traveler when it makes more sense for someone to fly over in an hour versus making a five-hour drive.”
While the service is still within its first year of business, Condit said many of the flights now have a short waiting list. Neptune also has considered providing similar nonstop service between Missoula and Boise, though Condit said the passenger count is not quite there to make it viable.
Still, a Boise run is on the table.
“We’ve done a lot of surveying people and thrown out a couple tentative trips and didn’t get the passenger load to fill it up on the dates we offered,” Condit said. “Once we identify the need and who the potential passengers are, Boise would be something we’d look into doing sometime in the future.”
Condit said Neptune is also looking into options to make the flight schedule more convenient for Billings passengers. As it currently stands, passengers heading from Billings arrive in Missoula on Tuesday afternoon.
The next return trip doesn’t take place until Thursday morning.
“A lot of Billings businesses are using the service,” said Condit, adding that the slowdown in the Bakken hasn’t impacted the flight. “That really hasn’t effected this at all. Missoula and Billings are the east and west economic centers of the state. There’s a lot of business that gets conducted between the two communities.”
The route is served by a Beechcraft King Air B100, with pressurized seating for up to seven passengers.
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org