Competitive Airfares, Strong Bookings Help Grow Kalispell’s Airport

Riding back-to-back record years, Glacier Park International Airport continues steady climb

By Dillon Tabish

With competitive ticket prices and projected increases in air travel across the nation, Glacier Park International Airport is poised for another busy year.

The Kalispell airport, coming off back-to-back record years for passengers, has its full lineup of carriers back in 2015 and will once again offer seasonal direct flights to Los Angeles, Atlanta and Portland, Oregon.

The current seasonal flight to Chicago from December through early April has delivered strong numbers and is being touted as a success by the group that helped secure it. The flight was the first to be brokered through a revenue guarantee from the Glacier AERO group, a nonprofit that raised donations from the community to help increase local airline service. According to AERO Chairman Paul Johannsen, the group will most likely have to pay some of the $240,000 that was initially put up as collateral to secure the Chicago flight through United.

“That flight has done very well but at this point we will have to dig into the fund a little,” Johannsen said.

AERO board members are discussing whether to pursue another direct service to Chicago for next winter that would add an additional daily flight option beyond the current Saturday-only flight, according to Johannsen. There has also been consideration for trying to expand direct service to Texas, which airports in Bozeman and Jackson, Wyoming, have done successfully.

Another added boost for passengers, Kalispell has one of the most competitive average airfare prices in the state. According to the quarterly figures released by the Federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Kalispell’s average ticket price last summer was $396. That is right on par with the national average and third cheapest in Montana, behind Missoula ($368) and Great Falls ($361). Bozeman, the largest airport in the state, had an average airfare of $417 and Billings’ was $435. In Spokane, Washington, the average airfare was $386.

“We do have very competitive airfares out of Kalispell,” Airport Director Cindi Martin said.

Summer flights tend to be more expensive than the overall annual average.

The Kalispell airport has experienced noticeable growth in recent years and remains the fourth largest airport in terms of passengers in Montana. GPIA has set records the past two years, with 452,588 revenue passengers a year ago, a 13.74 percent increase over the previous year’s record mark. It was the largest percentage increase in the state.

Kalispell’s reputation as a strong tourism destination proved itself in July and August, the peak of summer, when more than 142,000 passengers arrived and departed at GPIA.

Early forecasts are predicting this year will be another busy one. Overall tourism is expected to increase across the U.S. due to lower fuel prices. Airlines for America, the industry’s leading trade organization, released its spring air travel forecast March 11 and predicted a considerable rise in passengers in the coming months across the U.S.

An estimated 134.8 million people are expected to fly on U.S. airlines during March and April, the highest level in seven years, according to the group. To accommodate the expected growth, airlines are planning to increase the number of seats by 3 percent. Every U.S. carrier is expected to grow this year and early schedules show 2015 could see the largest domestic seat supply since 2008. The group attributed the growth in air travelers to the improving economy and rising personal incomes.

Average Airfares in Montana

July-September

Great Falls      $361

Missoula         $368

Kalispell         $396

National Average       $396

Bozeman        $417

Billings            $435

Havre              $441

Sidney                        $492

Butte               $513

Helena                        $557

Glendive         $573

Glasgow          $653

Wolf Point      $754

Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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