From the pre-dawn hours until midnight, Glacier Park International Airport is bustling with passengers this summer and on pace for another record year.
More than 87,000 people flew in and out of the local airport in July, the most ever for a single month.
More than 44,000 passengers arrived at GPIA last month and another 43,000 flew out, both records. July’s total passenger count was up nearly 14 percent over the previous year.
July and August, historically the busiest months of the year, are shaping up to be the bellwethers of an unprecedented summer that is poised to shatter the previous high for travelers. Air travel in June jumped nearly 20 percent over last year with more than 55,000 travelers.
So far this year, GPIA has accommodated almost 30,000 more travelers than this time last year. The airport had roughly 492,000 passengers in 2016 and set the annual record for air travel for the fifth year in a row.
“We have had several record years out here and for the foreseeable future we don’t see that abating by any great extent,” GPIA Director Rob Ratkowski said.
With its 10.3 percent increase in passengers, Kalispell’s airport is experiencing the highest percentage uptick in air travel among Montana’s larger airports. Air travel is up 8 percent in Bozeman so far this year, with 695,000 passengers, and 4 percent in Missoula, with 438,000 passengers.
Amid the record crowds, GPIA is expanding the parking lot by adding 224 additional spaces to the existing main lot, which has 660 short-term and long-term spots. Knife River is the primary contractor and is slated to begin work in mid-September. The expansion will extend the current lot east to Glacier Airport Road. The project, funded by local airport operating revenues, will cost an estimated $530,000 and take approximately 30 days to complete.
Ratkowski said the expansion will particularly benefit the growing number of local travelers who utilize the main lot more frequently than tourists who rent vehicles upon arrival.
“In the last two years, we’ve had to use our overflow lot with increasing regularity,” Ratkowski said. “Unfortunately, area residents are most impacted because they’re the ones leaving a vehicle for several days. We know that no one enjoys searching for a parking spot or walking from the overflow lot with luggage, so we are increasing parking to help alleviate those challenges. It’s a great way to make the airport experience more convenient for our local travelers.”
Ratkowski said a new planning process is underway that will analyze passenger growth and future facility needs for potential changes at GPIA in the coming years.
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