Glacier Park International Airport is on track to set another passenger record after an unprecedented summer.
Passenger traffic was up 10.5 percent through September and is poised to surpass 500,000 for the entire year for the first time in history.
The local airport along U.S. Highway 2 welcomed nearly 113,000 passengers between June and September, a 13.9 percent increase over a year ago. The four-month total made it the busiest summer on record for GPIA.
Kalispell’s airport, benefiting from a robust tourism season and consistent local travel, is experiencing the highest percentage increase in passengers in 2017 among Montana’s largest airports. Air travel is up 9.2 percent in Bozeman and 3.4 percent in Missoula.
“To see this kind of uptick during both our peak and non-peak seasons is very encouraging,” Airport Director Rob Ratkowski said. “We are working to ensure that airport expansion accommodates the growth of our community and its increasing travel needs.”
GPIA is on pace to set a new annual passenger record for the sixth year in a row. Ratkowski said the airport is preparing to adapt accordingly, beginning with an update of its long-term planning strategy. Updated every decade, the Glacier Park International Airport Master Plan outlines the airport’s 20-year growth plan. The plan takes into account expected passenger and aircraft activity, land use around the airport, and facilities that need expansion or improvement.
“The master plan looks at the airport as it currently exists and identifies what changes need to be made to meet future demand,” Ratkowski said. “Once we identify what changes are needed, we will start logistical and financial planning to figure out how we as an airport will make those changes.”
The planning effort will look at all aspects of the airport’s operation, including the terminal, airfield, parking, land use, and support facilities such as maintenance shops and fire stations. This fall, GPIA expanded its parking lot by adding 224 additional spaces to the existing main lot.
The updated planning process is in the initial stages, and Ratkowski said he has already begun gathering input from a variety of local stakeholders, including municipalities, land-planning agencies and area businesses such as Flathead Electric, Kalispell Regional Healthcare and Weyerhauser. Once outreach is complete, the airport will evaluate development alternatives and begin seeking funding from the Federal Aviation Administration to help cover a portion of the costs of improvement projects.
The update is currently expected to be complete in the late 2018.
“It’s the decisions we make today that will ultimately protect this important community resource in the long run,” Ratkowski said. “More and more travelers will be using the airport, and we need to make sure that the facility continues to serve and represent our community.”
Next door to the airport, Greg Bain & Co. is developing a 100-room hotel that is poised to open in June 2018 as a Country Inns & Suites by Radisson. The hotel has two adjacent building pads that could suit a restaurant and convenience store, Bain said.