Glacier Park Airport Secures Federal Funding to Continue Airport Expansion

The first phase of the project is close to completion with new gates and a security checkpoint; airport traffic trends indicate a rise in shoulder season travel

By Maggie Dresser
Glacier Park International Airport expansion project in January 2023. Beacon file photo

Glacier Park International Airport (GPIA) has secured $2.8 million in federal funding to continue terminal and gate expansion as the facility undergoes a remodel that will triple its size.

The funding will also expand ticketing and kiosk areas, passenger hold rooms and drive lanes and is part of $150 million expansion. The dollars are part of a bipartisan deal called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) brokered by Montana’s U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and is awarded through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Terminals Program.

Construction crews are nearly finished with phase 1A of the expansion, which includes renovations to portions of the TSA checkpoint, new jet bridges and waiting areas, expanded retail and dining options, administrative offices and mechanical facilities.

“We’re getting very close to completion on phase 1A, the work we have been doing for two-and-a-half years,” Ratkowski said. “The space is coming along really well. There are four new gates, a new security check point, all new concessions and administrative offices.”

Now that funding has been secured, Ratkowski said the expansion can continue as airport traffic grows in the Flathead Valley.

While peak summer travel in the summer continues to grow every year, with a 7% increase in arrivals from July 2022 to July 2023, shoulder season traffic is also growing each year, which Ratkowski attributes to new Flathead Valley residents.

For example, there were 43,583 boardings in September 2022 compared to 50,545 during the same month in 2023, a 16% year-over-year increase.

Despite a slow start to the winter ski season this year, there was a 17% increase in arrivals in December 2023 compared to the same month in 2022.

“With the mountain not having great snow, that’s a little bit of a head scratcher – other than this continuing trend with shoulder season continuing to get stronger” Ratkowski said. “Rather than skier traffic we had a lot of residents traveling.”

While data is not yet available for January or February, Ratkowski suspects that winter tourism numbers are down, but Flathead Valley residents are making up for those numbers.

“I’ve been here for 20 years and the big shift is in what historically would be called the off-season, which is everything but summer,” Ratkowski said. “We’re continuing to see strong growth in the shoulder season, and we have really attributed that to a lot more people that have moved here. It’s supported by occupancy parking lot numbers, which have remained very full. That supports the concept that these are people that live here and are utilizing the airport.”

Ratkowski said the timeline for the completion of the renovation and expansion is tentatively planned for 2026, which will include renovations to the rental car, baggage claim and second-floor gate areas.

A new parking lot at GPIA is already in operation, with an additional 375 spaces, including ADA-accessible parking, totaling roughly 1,300 spaces between the general parking area and newly paved cell phone lot, where the first two hours of parking are free.

The airport is operational during construction and airline service is continuing as usual. More information about GPIA can be found at www.iflyglacier.com.