By Martin Kidston
Missoula International Airport on Tuesday reported an all-time record passenger count for September, a figure attributed to larger planes and expanded air service.
Brian Ellestad, the airport’s deputy director, said nearly 71,000 passengers flew in and out of Missoula last month, marking a 17 percent increase over the same month last year, when 59,883 travelers passed through the airport.
“It’s all extra growth the airlines have put into our market,” Ellestad said. “Alaska Airlines has added that fourth flight to Seattle, and Allegiant is now year-round to Los Angeles. All the airlines have put in extra seats.”
Ellestad said the five major airlines serving Missoula increased service in September. Alaska now flies four daily flights to Seattle and one daily flight to Portland. Along with its new service to Los Angeles, Allegiant also provides year-round flights to Mesa, Ariz., and Las Vegas.
“Delta, Frontier and United have also increased available seats in the markets they serve out of Missoula,” Ellestad said. “In the past, our shoulder seasons have been slow, but we’re seeing that grow, and we’re expecting another record year.”
This calendar year, Ellestad said, passenger counts in Missoula are up 9 percent over 2015, when 351,000 people flew into or out of Missoula. That marked a 5 percent increased over 2014. The airport topped the 300,000 mark for the first time in 2012.
Ellestad expects that growth to continue for the remainder of this calendar year.
“We’re expecting another record year,” he said. “We’re up 9 percent this year, and with more seats in the market we expect to see that continue over the next three months.”
The growing passenger count and larger aircraft have prompted airport officials to embark on a new Terminal Area Master Plan. The effort got underway earlier this year and has included a host of meetings with stakeholders, from the airlines to car rental companies.
In August, the airport unveiled its vision for a new terminal, one that offers eight gates and two concourses with room for future expansion. With a budget of $45 million, the airport expects to hone the preferred alternative by November and begin construction shortly after.
“We’re getting close,” Ellestad said. “We’ll start design work beginning in January.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at email@example.com