MISSOULA - With the new passenger terminal set to open at Missoula Montana Airport next week, airport officials are scrambling to get moved in while bracing for the busy summer travel season, which kicks off in June.
The airport also is watching the airline industry as it adjusts routes and service amid a shortage of pilots. Missoula is trending well, though service from other Montana cities may be suspended this year.
That includes Alaska Airlines cutting service to Portland from Bozeman, Kalispell and Billings. Missoula will retain service to Portland but only on Saturday, Missoula airport director Brian Ellestad said.
Jet Blue will also suspend summer service between Kalispell to John F. Kennedy Airport.
“We’re pretty much trending right with the rest of the U.S. as far as the pilot shortage and all the airlines cutting back on service this year,” said Ellestad. “We’re trending better with what United is doing with the rest of their system and for Delta, we’re right there.”
Ellestad said seats on American Airlines out of Missoula are 50% greater than last year, even though the carrier suspended service from Missoula to Chicago. Instead, it upgraded its flight from Missoula to Dallas/Fort Worth to a larger mainline aircraft.
Frontier Airlines this week also announced plans to launch service from Missoula to Denver on June 18, or two weeks earlier than initially planned.
“Frontier is coming in a little earlier in our market so all and all, we’re sitting pretty equal to where the industry is,” Ellestad said. “I think our load factors will have a record this summer. I think we’ll have a good story at the end of the day.”
Ellestad said he’s meeting with carriers next month to fill out next summer’s schedule as the airport seeks more seats and more service.
As the airlines juggle their routes, the Missoula airport is poised to move into the new south concourse – a $68 million project that marks the first of several phases.
The airport closed its financial agreement with the bank last week, setting the stage for Phase 2 to begin, which includes the east concourse.
“We’re in the home-run stretch of (Phase 1) construction,” said deputy airport director Tim Damrow. “It’s been all-hands-on-deck at the airport helping out wherever we can.”
With the new south concourse set to open, the airport is working with NorthWestern Energy to secure the energy rebates it will receive from the project’s energy-efficient construction. The terminal was built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, though the airport doesn’t plan to pursue the certificate given the cost.
The upgrades built into the new terminal include LED lighting, geothermal heating and special window treatments, among other things.
“It’s looking like we’ll receive around $80,000 in the form of energy rebates that will come back to the airport in the form of our bill with NorthWestern,” Damrow said. “It’s nice to see those installed and the energy savings we’ll see on our bills in the years to come.”