MISSOULA - Fuel prices and a pilot shortage continue to challenge the airline industry through cancellations and higher fares but, so far, Missoula Montana Airport has been spared at least one of those issues.
While ticket prices are up, the airport has maintained its current level of service, according to airport director Brian Ellestad.
“Although there is lots of national news on airline cancellations, to date we mostly have been spared and our operations have been running smooth,” he said. “As we look to the fall, we’ll be very close to 2019 (passenger) numbers.”
While some airports have lost service, Missoula has seen a slight expansion with Frontier Airlines starting service to Denver in mid-June, and American Airlines stretching service to Los Angeles through early October.
Ellestad said Allegiant airlines is also restoring service to Santa Ana Airport in Orange County, California, this November. Other routes could be in Missoula’s future once the airline industry stabilizes.
“I met with Alaska, American, Delta, Sun Country, Spirit, and Southwest Airlines,” he said. “We have received positive feedback from our existing airlines and potential interest from those airlines we currently do not serve. Based on all the feedback, I would expect additional service for the summer of 2023.”
Airfares have ticked up in Missoula, where the average fare in the Fourth Quarter of 2021 was $450, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In comparison, Bozeman was $361, Billings $417, Kalispell $437 and Helena $504.
Figures for the First Quarter of 2022 aren’t yet available, though some passengers have expressed frustration over current prices. But deals can still be had, Ellestad said.
“Prices are higher than they should be. But we have cars in our parking lot today all the way from Gallatin County. It’s all a matter of booking early and getting those tickets. The value is out there,” he said.
Ellestad added that fuel prices and the pilot shortage should be resolved by next year.
“Everyone wants to add service, they just have a pilot shortage. They’re fighting with the rest of the country for airplane time. I think next summer, the pendulum will swing the opposite way,” he said.