The first phase of the new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport won't be ready for several years, though many local travelers may wish it had opened yesterday.

The airport on Tuesday announced an all-time passenger record for October, with more than 73,000 boardings. That's an increase of 18 percent over the prior October, or more than 11,000 additional people.

“It's always a little breathtaking when we see those numbers and continue to grow the way we are,” said airport director Cris Jensen. “It makes the point that the terminal project can't get done soon enough as we try to accommodate all those new passengers. But we're working hard to get that done.”

Early phases of construction are already underway at the airport, including a new access road, which is expected to conclude this year. A new security checkpoint will also open next month, making way for demolition of the old security wing to begin in January.

That will lay the groundwork for the constriction of a new five-gate concourse, which is slated to open in 2021. When the project is fully completed, the airport will offer at least eight gates and room for a growing number of passengers.

Until then, those who fly from Missoula will experience larger crowds.

“The strong local economy is certainly one reason we're seeing more passengers,” said Jensen. “Competition in our market has definitely lowered airfares.”

With the addition of American Airlines and the competitive response from other carriers, Missoula has added more than 28,000 total seats in the local market since June.

It's expected set another all-time yearly passenger record this year.

“Having American Airlines in the market has created that competitive environment,” Jensen said. “I think the airlines are responding by lowering prices, and that's getting more people onto airplanes.”