In 2019, the Missoula International Airport set another new record for passenger travel, according to Airport Director Chris Jensen.

“We’re at about 455,000 total enplanements which means we had an equal number of deplanements if you will (for a total of over 910,000),” said Jensen. “The actual number is 455,272 versus last year which was 424,836 enplanements for 2018. We’re really excited to continue the trend that’s been established now for quite a few years where we see positive growth in our passenger numbers. We’re still growing faster than what we see at a national level, so we think that’s a good thing.”

Jensen said there are a number of factors that led to the growth in passenger air travel in Missoula.

“Part of that is growth in the community, certainly business growth, tourist growth, new hotels and new activities,” he said. “I think the fact that we have new carriers in the market and that our airfares have been trending down, so part of the news that we’re happy to share is that we are again the lowest cost airport in the state of Montana. I think all of those things add up to more people taking advantage of the service that we have here.”

Jensen said the fact that the airport is in the middle of a major construction project makes the numbers even more impressive.

“Partly our growth is capped by what our physical facilities can accommodate,” he said. “The fact is that we are struggling to park the airplanes that are coming in, along with all the cars and finding places for the passengers to wait to board their flights. While we knew we needed this new terminal desperately, every years that goes by it’s proven to us more and more that without it there would be a time in the not to distant future that our growth would be done, and we just wouldn’t physically be able to accommodate anything else.”

Jensen said phase one of the airport expansion is still underway.

“We’re a little over a year into our phase one expansion,” he said. “Our schedule today, and I might note that we are on schedule and on budget, completion of phase one of the terminal by January of 2022, so just about two years from right now. The next phase would be adding three more gates off to the east. In a perfect world, we’d like to roll right into that phase right after this one is completed, however a big part of all that is the financial part, how we can pay for it. Up to the end of phase one we’re right at $67 million, which is the number we’ve been at for over a year. We’ve been telling people that this is a project driven by budget, not a budget driven by project.”

Jensen explained how the expansion is being financed.

“Here at the airport we don’t get tax revenue from the city, the county or the state, so we basically have to pay for it with debt, or with funds that we generate, so we’ve said that’s the number we’re comfortable with, and we’ve managed to stay on that number.”