MISSOULA — While Missoula Montana Airport prepares to open the first phase of its new passenger terminal and explore its funding position ahead of Phase Two, it’s knocking off a number of smaller projects to aid in the process.
Among them, it plans to commission its new four-gate exit plaza this month, install new jet bridges at the new terminal, and relocate car rental to a new exterior location ahead of future construction.
“We’re currently struggling with the existing space for rental car operations and trying to balance out what those requirements are as we set them up for the future,” said deputy airport director Tim Damrow. “We needed something that would work as a long-term solution.”
Before Phase Two of the terminal project can begin, the airport will raze the current airport terminal and clear the site for construction. It had intended to keep the far eastern portion of the old building to house baggage claim and car rental.
But in the end, Damrow said, it wasn’t a good option.
“It puts us in a number of different phasing constraints for future phases of the project,” he said.
Instead, a temporary baggage claim will be established in the new terminal and car rental will be housed in a temporary building in the parking lot. When both phases of the project are completed at some point in the future, rental cars and baggage claim will occupy the terminal’s newest wing.
But that could still be years away from completion.
“We believe this sets our rental car customers up for success, both as we transition to the new facility but also a better option for the long term if, potentially, we experience any delays to the project,” he said.
Phase One of the terminal represents the largest and most costly portion of the project at around $67 million. It’s expected to open early next year and the jet bridges have arrived.
Damrow said the project’s contractor has found ways to install the bridges all at once instead of phasing that portion of the project out over time.
“It will allow us to install bridges all at once, reducing the times that the contractor has to come back on-site and mobilize for that install,” he said. “Hopefully we have those stood up at once to transition seamlessly into the new building, and hopefully not have to span operations between the two buildings.”
Ahead of winter, the airport is placing the final touches on outdoor projects including landscaping and heated sidewalks outside the new terminal. It will also finish the parking lot and open the new exit plaza.
While the old exit included two gates and wasn’t always easy to get to, the new plaza will include four gates, three of them automated. A reconfigured parking lot will aid navigation onto West Broadway.
The airport also is installing a new general aviation camera to assist private pilots with their flight planning. The cameras include a reference down the runway on a clear visual day and a real-time image of current conditions.
“A pilot in the general aviation community can see what it looks like today compared to referencing a clear visual day,” said airport director Brian Ellestad. “It helps pilots do their weather preflight and what their destination looks like. We’ll be the first commercial service airport in Montana to put this in.”