The federal spending bill signed into law last week by President Donald Trump restored optimism at Missoula International Airport as it gears up to build a new passenger terminal.
“The big news for us is that there was an additional $1 billion that was made available for their Airport Improvement Program, with an emphasis on small hub and non-hub airports, which we just happen to be,” said airport director Cris Jensen. “That could help our funding scenario for our terminal project, so we’re very excited about that.”
Airport officials have been watching a number of bills in Congress over the past year that could impact funding for the terminal project, which is expected to begin early next year. Funding earmarked for airport improvements at small and non-hub facilities served as a win.
Jensen said discretionary funding for airport terminals is capped at $20 million. While the airport currently has $11.5 million, it would like to receive the full amount authorized under the new program.
“We’ve already had a meeting with our airport district office,” Jensen said. “They’ve been fighting for us even before the omnibus bill, and they continue to fight for us. So we feel good that maybe there’s some additional funding there.”
While the funding spells good news for the airport’s plans, Jensen said, the omnibus bill did not include a proposed increase in the so-called passenger facility charge. The Senate version of the bill sought to raise the charge from $4.50 to $8.50, though the language didn’t survive.
The fee, added to the price of an originating ticket, helps airports pay for infrastructure improvements, such as Missoula’s own terminal expansion. But the fee hasn’t been raised in nearly two decades, even though larger airports have been pushing Congress to raise or remove the cap.
“Given the choice between an increase in the PFC and the potential to get $20 million in discretionary funding, I would prefer the additional discretionary funding,” Jensen said. “The additional Airport Improvement Program funding would mean less debt and the ability to pay it off quicker.”
The airport updated its terminal area master plan in 2016 and contracted A&E Architects to begin planning a future facility. The current terminal, which includes as many as 11 additions, has grown obsolete and is unable to accommodate the growing number of passengers and larger aircraft.
In October, the Missoula County Airport Authority approved a working design for the new terminal, which includes eight passenger gates spread between two concourses. The project is self-funded by airport revenues and federal grants and does not include an increase in local taxes, airport officials have said.
A final price tag has not been determined.