Glacier Park International Cleared For Takeoff in 2020

Airport prepares for major expansion as passenger numbers continue to skyrocket

By Justin Franz
Travelers exit Glacier Park International Airport on July 19, 2019. Beacon file photo

Ask Glacier Park International Airport Director Rob Ratkowski what the big storyline of 2019 was and he has a simple answer: passenger growth.

“It was huge,” Ratkowski said of the 15 percent increase in passengers moving through the airport in 2019. “And next year will be even bigger.”

Ratkowski said he expected boarding numbers at GPIA to top 350,000 in 2019. In 2018, about 308,000 people boarded aircraft at GPIA. The airport has seen a 33 percent increase in passenger volume since 2014.

Ratkowski said all the airlines that serve Kalispell — Delta, Alaska, United and American — have seen growth in recent years, but American had a big influence on the numbers in 2019, its inaugural year flying in and out of the area. American offered flights to Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas and it plans to expand its offerings out of Kalispell in June 2020 with a new direct flight to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.

“American has been making some big investments in Montana,” Ratkowski said.

The airline is also planning on assigning larger aircraft to its routes in and out of Kalispell in 2020, moving from planes with 76 seats to 160 seats.

To help handle increasing passenger loads, GPIA will embark on a $100 million terminal expansion starting in 2020. The project is expected to take almost four years to complete and will expand the terminal from about 75,000 square feet to 198,000 square feet. The airport will go from five gates to seven gates once construction is complete. Six of the gates will feature jet bridges and only one ground-level gate will remain.

“It’s going to be a significant expansion,” Ratkowski said.

As part of the effort, each gate will have larger waiting areas and additional concessions will be built in the gate area, including a bar and restaurant. Security will also have more room so the airport can handle more people at once.

Ratkowski said work for this project actually began a few years ago when the airport grew the terminal apron, the area where airplanes are parked. Ratkowski said that work helped set the stage for what will begin in 2020. Phase 1 is expected to begin over the summer and will see renovations on the northwest side of the airport.

Ratkowski said the airport’s success would not be possible without the hard work of its people, some of which were recently recognized by an international travel statistics group. In October, GPIA had a 93.5 percent on-time departure rate, ranking second in North American scheduled departures. Official Aviation Guide, the leading provider of travel data and insights in the industry, noted that GPIA was in 33rd place globally. Missoula ranked 100th and Bozeman ranked 106th in North America. GPIA was behind only one other airport in North America for on-time departures: Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois in Marion, Illinois, which operates daily flights to St. Louis. GPIA operates flights to eight or more destinations every day, including Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver and Minneapolis. Seasonal flights are also offered to Portland, Los Angeles and Chicago.