Larger jets and more routes pushed the number of seats available from Missoula International Airport up more than 20% in 2018, resulting in a statistical dip in the number of people on any given plane.
It wasn’t that fewer people were flying but rather, there were more seats to fill and more routes to chose from. But that statistical decline has since recovered, and airlines are logging fuller flights.
“We’ve already said we were up about 7% on total passengers last year – it’s a good number and about double the national average,” Jensen said. “But we’ve also seen that our load factors have recovered.”
Last year’s 7% growth in the total number of passengers continued a nearly 10-year run of year-over-year records. Seeing the demand, airlines have responded by adding new routes, more flights and larger aircraft.
Initially, there were just as many people to fill those flights in 2018 as the growth began. But over the past two years, Alaska Airlines has seen its load factors climb from 73% to 80% and Allegiant from 83% to 87%.
Delta also increased its load factors from 71% to 82%; United from 67% to 79%; and American – the latest airline to enter the Missoula market – from 69% to 87%.
“Our market has embraced them and they’re doing just fine,” Jensen said of American. “Those are all healthy load factors and they’re trending in the right direction. We think our market has absorbed a lot of the growth we’ve seen.”
Over the coming year, the airport anticipates another 6% growth in the number of available seats. With that in mind, 2020 is expected to be another record year, especially as Delta begins weekly service from Missoula to Seattle and Alaska begins daily service to Los Angeles.
Several airlines are also tweaking their schedule including American Airlines, which will switch to a larger Airbus over the summer months. Jensen said the airport won’t be able to accommodate additional passenger growth or increased service until the new passenger terminal is finished.
Work on the first phase is under construction and airport officials will decide next month whether to start phase two sooner rather than later.
“The building is physically at its limits on what we can accommodate in terms of aircraft parking and people in the gate areas,” Jensen said. “We can’t build this new terminal fast enough. Once the terminal is complete, I would expect we’d have a number of new announcements. In the meantime, we’re doing the best we can with what we have.”