American Airlines has begun scouting Missoula International Airport as it gears up to begin nonstop service from Missoula to Dallas and Chicago, airport officials said this week.
Brian Ellestad, deputy director of the Missoula airport, said work on marketing the new service to Dallas/Fort Worth will begin as the airline provides advanced booking information. The airport will also bid on providing ground handling for the city’s newest carrier.
“We’ve had several meetings with them and they’re coming back next week to scout our space,” Ellestad said. “If we do get selected for ground handling, we may come back to the (airport) board to purchase some additional ground service equipment.”
The Missoula airport set a passenger record in 2017 for the fourth straight year, and for the 16th time in 18 years. Since 2000, passenger growth has climbed 68 percent to nearly 400,000 annual travelers.
What’s more, Ellestad said, the number of carriers serving Missoula has doubled since 2000, and the number of destinations have increased from just 4 in 2000 to 13 once service to Dallas/Fort Worth begins in June.
That new service was announced in December and was the result of a revenue guarantee, including a $600,000 federal grant and a $400,000 community match. The Missoula Economic Partnership will administer the community portion of the guarantee while the airport will administer the federal portion.
Ellestad said the guarantee will help cover any shortfalls experienced by the airline on service to Dallas.
“On a monthly basis, (American) will be submitting a positive revenue statement or shortfall,” Ellestad said. “As a sponsor of the grant, we’ll start getting data that is held by a confidentiality agreement. In our best case, we don’t use any of this (revenue guarantee).”
Ellestad said American will begin service to Missoula in June with an Embraer ERJ-175, which seats 76 passengers.
“What they did in Bozeman after the first year, they went to a mainline aircraft after that second summer,” he said. “They’re prepping now based on what they see for advanced booking.”