GPIA’s Fall Passenger Numbers Show Continued Recovery

Airport officials discussing potential rescheduling of expansion for spring or summer of 2021

By Maggie Dresser
Travelers exit Glacier Park International Airport on July 19, 2019.

Glacier Park International Airport (GPIA) is continuing to recover following a sharp pandemic-caused decline in the airline industry in the spring, said Airport Director Rob Ratkowski.

Autumn airport numbers are comparable to two years ago, with 56,046 total passengers this September compared to 59,733 in 2018, although still well behind last year’s September passenger total of 70,643. Those numbers built on the trend of improvement in summer, when the airport saw 68,064 total passengers in August after only 1,802 total passengers in April.

“It seems like in the tourism community that people extended the season this year,” Ratkowski said. “Whether people are working or doing school remotely, there’s kind of this general sentiment that some of our typical summer traffic pushed into September and October.

GPIA is also leading the state in recovery based on percentages, Ratkowski said.

The pandemic stalled the airport’s $100 million expansion project, which was originally scheduled to begin this summer. When airport numbers began dropping precipitously after the pandemic hit in the spring, officials decided to wait until they started seeing numbers consistent with their benchmark year of 2017, which saw 270,451 boarding passengers for the entire year.

Since September’s passenger numbers are recovering, airport officials are talking about potentially scheduling the airport’s expansion once again for the spring or summer of 2021.

“We are going to wait to see how we perform in the fourth quarter and make a decision after the first of the year,” Ratkowski said. “We’re still watching all the indicators.”

Once officials make a decision, GPIA will expand to 210,000 square feet from its current 75,000 square feet, including more passenger space, larger checkpoint and circulating areas and holding rooms.

Prior to the pandemic, GPIA was seeing record boarding numbers, with 356,297 boarding passengers in 2019, up from 307,281 in 2018.

Now airline officials will keep their eye on the holiday season’s numbers at the end of November and into December.

“We’re just waiting,” Ratkowski said.

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