Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The number of passengers boarding a flight from Missoula Montana Airport increased 4.1% in April, and with new routes starting in May, the figures should continue to climb, making 2024 another record year, officials said Tuesday.

Airport director Brian Ellestad said he's expecting a double-digit increase in May's passenger figures. Frontier Airlines returned to the market earlier this month with service to Denver and launched new service to Phoenix, bringing more seats to the market.

Other seasonal flights also began in May, including Allegiant service to Oakland and Orange County, California. United also started service to San Francisco and Chicago, along with additional service to Denver.

“American Airlines also added a second Dallas flight this month,” Ellestad said. “Their restart of Los Angeles and Chicago are set to start in early June.”

To accommodate the growth, the airport is closing in on completing the second phase of its terminal project, which is slated to open early next year. This week, the Missoula County Airport Authority approved a signage package for the new east concourse and approved funding to begin Phase 3.

Ellestad said the $7.9 million contract for Phase 3 construction will add another gate to where Phase 2 left off on the east concourse. The project was buoyed by a recent federal grant.

“We've been talking about Phase 3 for quite some time, even before Phase 2 was completed,” said Ellestad. “It gives another jet bridge. That will bring us up to seven, along with a ground boarding option.”

A rendering of the airport upon completion of the terminal project.
A rendering of the airport upon completion of the terminal project.

As work on the east concourse advances, airport officials are looking forward in hopes of landing new routes and new airlines. Ellestad recently attended two air service conferences, the latest in Washington, D.C., where he met with eight different airlines.

While the airport is optimistic about new service, it's currently looking to fill the growing number of flights out of Missoula. Those figures could determine what new additions, if any, may be coming, and Ellestad plans to meet with various airlines again come fall.

“We have a lot of seats to fill, so we'll have a better gauge in August,” he said. “With all the extra seats, the airlines are getting more aggressive on airfare costs, and they want to continue to fill up their aircraft.”

The airport is also working on customer service, particularly around parking. Growth at the airport has prompted a number of parking projects and changes, including the airport's parking management agreement.

Deputy airport director Tim Damrow said the airport's parking equipment will be replaced with new technology. The changes will include a 24-hour call center, license-plate recognition, contactless pay and data to help the airport market to flying customers.

Damrow said the current system is nearly 15 years old.

“There's been a lot of changes in technology. The new system is a cloud-based system. It's redundant and very durable,” he said. “It does offer some modern revenue control features, allowing us to analyze data, which is something we're currently lacking. It also helps us to market to certain passengers.”