As the Missoula County Airport Authority begins a new year, it will welcome a new member to the board while working to complete the construction of a new airport terminal.
Missoula County this week appointed David Bell to fill a vacant seat on the board. Bell, president and CEO of the ALPS Corp., has a long history with the airport and, from the outside, has helped propel its growth.
Now, he’ll have a seat at the table.
“He worked very hard with us a few years ago on the airline incentive program to help get American Airlines here and it’s been very successful,” said Lynn Fagen, the airport’s administrative manager. “It’s a plus on our end. From our perspective, he’s got a lot of connections in the community.”
Efforts within the Missoula business community to increase passenger service at the airport culminated in 2017 when American Airlines launched daily nonstop service from Missoula to Dallas/Fort Worth and seasonal service to Chicago.
That same month, United Airlines launched nonstop service to Los Angeles. The increase in competition and flight options has helped drive down ticket prices. Airfares from Missoula in 2021 averaged $354 – the second lowest in the state behind Bozeman at $308, according to figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
In comparison, fares out of Billings average $378, Kalispell $357 and Helena $443.
Bell has long advocated for increased service to and from Missoula, saying it’s needed to help local businesses compete with those based in larger, more centrally located markets.
Four other applicants for the board seat also brought unique experience to the table. Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said that while there was only room for one applicant, the airport could benefit by involving the other four.
“If there’s some way to rope these folks into ad-hoc meetings or invite them to discussions where you think their expertise would be helpful, that would be great,” Slotnick said. “They are offering a fantastic and otherwise expensive resource in terms of their skills and abilities. I would encourage you not to just let them slip away.”