First Phase of GPIA Expansion Construction Receives Approval

Preliminary work almost complete with basement groundbreaking scheduled this summer; project will nearly triple airport’s square footage

By Myers Reece
Main lobby and security checkpoint. Courtesy rendering

The Flathead Municipal Airport Authority (FMAA) gave approval this week for phase one construction of Glacier Park International Airport’s (GPIA) major expansion.

The project will nearly triple the airport’s current square footage of 75,000 to about 200,000 square feet. Preliminary work is almost complete, with groundbreaking for the basement facilities scheduled later this summer.

As construction begins, airport officials say the passenger experience will remain largely unchanged through the busy summer season.

“We are really excited for construction to get underway,” GPIA Director Rob Ratkowski said in a statement. “The project is a culmination of four years of planning.”

Grand staircase and restaurant. Courtesy rendering

Construction was originally expected to begin last year but was paused following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent decline in travel. Over the course of 2020, however, GPIA experienced a “remarkable recovery in travel numbers.”

“The travel recovery at GPIA is a tremendous indicator of the increasing popularity of the area,” Ratkowski said. “The airport expansion will allow us to comfortably accommodate a greater number of airlines, routes, and travelers; those wanting to visit the Flathead Valley and those traveling from Montana to other areas of the country.”

Swank Enterprises and Q&D Construction were awarded the construction contract in February 2020 and began pursuing subcontractor bids following an FMAA approval this January. The majority of the expansion work will focus on passenger areas, with additional back-of-house improvements planned for operational areas such as TSA screening checkpoints and baggage management spaces. 

The terminal will expand from five gates to seven, with six of the gates featuring jet bridges and only one ground-level gate remaining. Each gate will have larger waiting areas, and additional concessions will be built in the gate area, including a bar and restaurant.

Exterior of GPIA. Courtesy rendering

The project is expected to cost $100 million, with funding derived from a variety of sources, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration, local tax revenues, and grants and federal stimulus.

The airport began in 1942 as a small runway in the middle of farmland, growing into a commercial airport in 1950 and an international airport by 1970.

In recent years, GPIA has added a long list of service cities, including year-round flights to Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Phoenix/Mesa, Salt Lake City and Seattle, plus seasonal flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, both major New York City airports, Oakland, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco.

“The airport is a vital asset to this community and the terminal expansion is pivotal for continuing to provide an important service to Kalispell and the surrounding areas,” Ratkowski said.

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