Missoula airport sets new passenger record as terminal project advances

Passengers collect their baggage at Missoula International Airport in this file photo. The airport on Tuesday said it set an all-time passenger record in 2019, topping 907,000 passengers. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Missoula International Airport set a new passenger record in 2019 and is verging on the milestone of serving 1 million people over the coming calendar year, officials announced on Tuesday.

Airport officials released the latest data Tuesday morning, just hours before the Missoula County Airport Authority was set to convene for its monthly meeting.

“The continued growth of passengers into and out of the Missoula International Airport is a reflection of the positive economic health and growth of tourism in the greater Missoula area,” airport director Cris Jensen said in a statement. “We continue to see increased competition in our marketplace, which has brought lower airfares for our customers.”

The airport in 2019 handled more than 907,700 passengers, marking an increase of more than 59,300 passengers over the prior year, or a jump of roughly 7%. Since the dawning of the millennium, passenger traffic at the Missoula airport has jumped 97%.

Airport officials have attributed the growth to an increase in service, including the recent addition of American Airlines and expanded service from a number of other carriers. The increase in routes has also led to an increase in competition, helping drive average fares out of Missoula to the lowest in the state.

According to the latest third quarter data released by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average fare from Missoula stood at $390, slightly lower than Bozeman at $396. The average fare from Great Falls was $412; Billings was $429; and Helena was $510.

The steady increase in passengers from Missoula has led to other challenges, primarily related to the airport’s antiquated terminal. But construction on the first phase of a new terminal began last year and is expected to open in 2022.

“It appears that 2020 will be another record year, if we can just figure out where to park the aircraft and put the passengers,” said Jensen. “Of course, these are good challenges to have.”

Airlines continue to enhance or upgrade service from Missoula, including Alaska Airlines, which will start nonstop service to Los Angeles in March. The carrier will also upgrade two of its four Seattle flights to mainline service starting in May.

A number of other carriers will also begin their seasonal routes from Missoula, starting with Frontier service to Denver in April and Delta service to Atlanta in June.