GPIA Airline Passenger Traffic Plummets to 20 Per Day

Glacier Park International Airport estimates steep drop in revenue, delays expansion project

By Maggie Dresser
Glacier Park International Airport parking lot in Kalispell is mostly empty on April 3, 2020. Flights have decreased significantly since the outbreak of COVID-19 and Montana Governor Bullock’s request for all non-essential travelers to stay away from Montana. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Glacier Park International Airport is seeing significant drops in airline traffic and revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic, echoing a nationwide trend.

In March, the airport saw only 12,499 departing passengers, far lower than March 2019, which saw 21,587. Arriving passenger figures were similar: 13,239 this March and 20,367 last March.

On Friday, April 17, Glacier Park International Airport announced that its passenger terminal expansion construction plans will be delayed due to the diminished travel, according to a press release. A new start date will be determined once air traffic stabilizes.

Airport Director Rob Ratkowksi says the airport is down to 20 passengers daily as of April 15, while it normally would see 580 per day this time of year.

“We’re definitely at the bottom (with passenger traffic),” Ratkowski said. “At first the question was, ‘When’s the bottom going to be?’ and the second question is, ‘How long is the bottom going to last?'”

Although this month’s billing cycle hasn’t been completed yet, Ratkowski estimates the revenue loss will be significant, especially with airport tenants like restaurants and gift shops closed. He says those variable rent revenues will probably be zero for April.

While the airport’s building tenants have furloughed many of their employees, Ratkowski says the Flathead Municipal Airport Authority is retaining all of its employees, which amounts to about 30. Employees have kept busy restriping roads and airfields while continuing deep cleaning and sanitation.

On Tuesday, April 14, the Federal Aviation Administration released grant-funding amounts for individual airports through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Airport Grant Program, with Glacier International Airport receiving $11.5 million.

“That’s going to be used first and foremost to offset those operating revenues that we’re losing right now,” Ratkowski said. “The rest of it is going to be used probably toward projects.”

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