Missoula Airport Authority approves contract with new director Ellestad

Missoula Montana Airport Director Brian Ellestad meets with Sen. Jon Tester and community members to discuss the impacts of the infrastructure bill on airport operations. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

The Missoula County Airport Authority on Tuesday approved a contract with its new director and agreed to a five-year term that begins this month. It’s also searching for a new deputy director.

Brian Ellestad, who has served as deputy director of Missoula Montana Airport for the past 12 years, told the board he was eager to move the facility forward as it continues a nearly $100 million renovation and welcomes new commercial air service.

“We have a great team here at the airport,” he said. “I’m looking forward to expanding community outreach and working with our regional partners as we continue to grow into the future.”

After a hiring search, the airport authority last month selected Ellestad to serve as the facility’s new director, pending contract negotiations. A total of 21 candidates applied for the position.

Ellestad’s familiarity with the Missoula operation, the facility’s growth and his past experience made him the right pick for the post, according to board chair Matthew Doucette.

“Brian has the right mix of airport and airline experience we were looking for,” he said. “He has a proven history with our organization and great relationships in the community. We know that he’ll continue to provide excellent management and leadership skills for our airport authority.”

Prior to Ellestad’s arrival in Missoula as deputy director, he served a similar role at the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, and 16 years with Midwest Express Airlines in Milwaukee.

The former director of the Missoula airport, Cris Jensen, left the post earlier this year to pursue another opportunity at the airport in Reno, Nevada.

Ellestad said he was eager to work with the community and its economic partners as the airport expands its services. The airport is wrapping up a $67 million passenger terminal and is prepared to embark on the project’s second phase, estimated at $42 million, as early as next year.

With Ellestad now appointed and a contract signed, the airport will move forward in a search for a new deputy director.

“We advertised nationally and have received 32 applications for the position,” Ellestad said. “We received a great cross section of applications that includes both internal and external candidates.”