Missoula airport officials set to consider second phase of terminal project

The number of aircraft at Missoula International Airport continues to grow and with it, the number of passengers passing through the terminal heading to vacation, business and family visits.

Replacing the city’s antiquated terminal can’t happen soon enough and this time next year, the first phase of the airport’s $100 million terminal project is set to open.

This week, as the airport’s latest flight addition arrived from San Diego, crews continued to place the final touches on the south concourse. At $67 million, it represents the largest piece of the overall terminal project and will include security, ticketing, restaurants and four sizable gate areas.

As that project winds down, airport officials are taking a closer look at Phase 2, which will replace the existing terminal with a new east concourse.

“We just finished up the design of the next phase,” said interim airport director Brian Ellestad. “It’s in our contractor’s hands for preliminary pricing. It’s not technically out to bid yet, but they’re doing a price check to see if we’re on budget. Once we get that back at the end of the month, we’ll sit down with the full board to discuss next steps.”

A rendering of the holding rooms in the new south concourse.

Those figures are expected out by the end of this month, bringing the Missoula Airport Authority closer to a decision on when to launch Phase 2, which carries an estimated cost of around $30 million.

Before the pandemic, the airport was closing in on 1 million annual passengers. Those figures are expected to rebound in the coming months as carriers add to their summer service and launch new flights to new destinations, including San Jose, San Francisco and Orange County, California.

The east concourse would add around four additional gates, bringing the total to eight with room for future expansion. 

“We need to do (Phase 2) one way or another,” Ellestad said. “We’ll figure out a way, whether to change the scope or whatever, but we need to build it. We need the extra gates and a real baggage claim.”

Crews continue working on the south concourse. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The airport funded Phase 1 with self-generated revenue and federal grants, along with strong support from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Airport Improvement Program. The more grants it receives, the less it has to borrow to fund the project.

That could help put the second phase within reach. But part of that could depend on pricing and how the lingering effects of the pandemic impact materials and construction.

“We got the bids out during the pandemic, which turned out okay, but we just don’t know where building prices are going to go once we get out of it,” Ellestad said. “That’s the only caveat we’re unaware of.”

Inaugural Alaska Airlines flight from San Diego arrives early in Missoula