Missoula airport planning for more flights, passengers in 2018 as growth continues

Passengers check in at Missoula International Airport. (Missoula Current)

While October is said to be one of the slowest times of the year for air travel out of Missoula International Airport, the facility saw a 3.7 percent increase in passengers last month and is likely on pace for another record-setting year.

With United Airlines launching nonstop service to Los Angeles next summer and a number of other new routes possible, airport officials expect to see heavy travel in 2018 as it kicks off construction of its new passenger terminal.

“Looking to summer 2018, the airlines haven’t finalized their summer schedules yet, but right now, from what we know, it’s going to be another record summer next year,” said Brian Ellestad, deputy airport director. “Through communications with the airlines, there’s still more (flights) to be added.”

Earlier this month, United announced plans to commence a nonstop route from Missoula to Los Angeles, a popular flight that has many local travelers eager for the service to begin in June.

Airport officials are also working with Delta and American airlines on service to Texas. That effort has enjoyed support from a group of community advocates who are raising the funds needed to guarantee the route.

Airport officials have said the service could begin next year, though the timeline remains in flux.

“The effort to generate funds for the minimum revenue guarantee program is ongoing,” said airport director Cris Jensen. “It looks like it will be service to Texas, whether it’s Houston our Dallas on United or American.”

The load factors on existing flights remain strong, even as the number of available seats remains flat. Over the past 12 months, United flights to Denver, San Francisco and Chicago have seen load factors averaging 87 percent.

Frontier to Denver has performed well, with load factors averaging 79 percent, while Delta to Seattle has average 73 percent. Delta’s flight to Salt Lake City has averaged 88 percent while its seasonal service to Atlanta averaged 94 percent this year.

Alaska Airlines service to Seattle has seen load factors averaging 83 percent. Jensen the airlines are generally pleased with their route performance in Missoula.

“I believe that in every meeting we had very positive conversations and that next year we can expect substantial growth in the number of seats we have available, as well as maybe a new carrier and some new destinations,” Jensen said.