The number of passengers passing through Missoula Montana Airport in 2021 increased significantly over the prior year when the pandemic put a pinch on travel.
However, the numbers fell just shy of 2019, which was a record-setting year for the airport. In the end, airport officials believe 2022 will see a return to normal, barring any unforeseen events.
“We expect 2022 to be a record year,” said airport director Brian Ellestad.
Last year, more than 766,000 passengers traveled through the airport. That was up 81% over the prior year but remains 15% shy of 2019.
The near return to normal passenger counts has filled departing aircraft, with load factors hitting 85% and higher. It’s a good sign for the carriers that serve Missoula and the city’s efforts to continue expanding service.
“Our load factors are crazy high,” said Ellestad. “We have carriers in the 90% to 95% load factor rates. We’ve never seen load factors this high. Our market is screaming for more seats.”
Ellestad said early 2022 will likely see fewer seats available in the Missoula market, largely due to a national shortage of pilots. However, he said, the number of seats will increase as spring draws near.
Some airlines are still finalizing their summer schedule.
“Looking forward into 2022, we start the year slightly down in seats versus 2019, but we quickly exceed that once late spring rolls around and we’re net positive going into the summer,” he said.
Ellestad said deputy airport director Tim Damrow recently attended an air-service conference where he met with nine different airlines.
“It was all good feedback,” Ellestad said. “We’re going to start going back to more air service conferences.”