Flying Bozeman’s Friendly Skies: New Flights and Facilities Increase Access
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport at Gallatin Field
Dorothy was right when she said there is no place like home. Even if my vacation rivals the excitement of Oz, I am always happy to hop off the plane at Bozeman’s airport. Whether they are visiting the area or returning home, passengers arriving at our local airport get a glimpse into what awaits beyond its doors. Sculptures including Guardian Spirit, the enormous grizzly crafted by local sculptor Dennis Harrington, reflect the nature that makes Bozeman famous and the artistic residents that make Bozeman fun. Detailed rock work and towering windows suggest the rugged adventures nearby mountains hold, while gift shops and coffee stops make those with a taste for modernity feel right at home. The first regular commercial flights to and from Bozeman began in 1947, and the airport has been growing ever since.
For the past 40 years, the recently renamed Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport at Gallatin Field has been growing at a rate much faster than the 5% growth typically experienced by airports in larger cities around the country, according to Airport Director Brian Sprenger. Airport growth is not measured by the number of flights arriving and departing, but by the number of seats on those flights. This summer, Sprenger expects the airport’s seat count to increase by over 33,000 seats when compared with last summer. This means Bozeman’s airport has grown by more than 16%, an exceptional rate for an airport in any city and one that keeps airport management on its toes.
Managing such rapid growth can be difficult, but “it is a good challenge to have,” Sprenger said. He cited economists that estimate this increase in airline traffic will result in half a billion dollars flooding in to the local economy in the form of hotel rooms and rental cars purchased, meals eaten, and jobs created. More flights to the area also entice businesses to set up shop in Bozeman because from Bozeman, they can easily access the rest of the world. Several, seasonal summer flights to major cities begin service in June and contribute substantially to all of this growth.
On summer Saturdays, Delta Air Lines will bring passengers directly to and from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. Delta will also offer daily service to Atlanta. Alaska Airlines is adding direct flights to Portland, Oregon, and United will be flying directly to Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
While additional flights are great news for all of the people eager to vacation in our area, they are also great news for those of us who like to escape the long lines of tourists in RVs heading down Jackrabbit Lane toward Yellowstone National Park every morning. Summer is now an excellent time to fly somewhere else. Mornings at the airport will be especially busy, with six flights departing between 6am and 6:30am. In fact, Sprenger is working to obtain a fourth security X-ray to accommodate the increase in passengers.
Despite the major construction recently completed on the terminal building, airport management continues to think about expansion in an effort to cautiously keep pace with the area’s growth. “We are always planning ahead, but we remain cautious,” Sprenger explained. A multi-use parking garage is currently under consideration and could be completed in 2019 if approved. Rental car agencies would contribute to the cost because rental cars would be parked there, in addition to pay parking facilities.
The airport’s capital improvement plan for 2015 includes the addition of more seating in the terminal. Investments will also be made to improve airport equipment. The plan outlines the purchase of a new parking ticket dispenser and new baggage carts and dispensers.
Airport management is also discussing the possibility of paving the airport’s grass runway. The aviation program at Gallatin College MSU is also growing, and because students cannot land on the grass runway, the airport’s only paved runway is getting crowded. The aviation program has been in existence longer than the airport itself. Montana State College trained pilots as early as the 1920s and started a Civilian Pilot Training program as World War II became imminent.
Many things have changed since aviation gained popularity in the Gallatin Valley; now access to the airport is changing as well. Highway construction in Belgrade has traffic on I-90 funneling into one-lane detours as bridges are built for a new interchange with direct access to Gallatin Field. The bridges should be done by mid-summer; completion of the entire project is not expected until late in the fall of 2014 or the summer of 2015. In preparation for the new interchange, the airport’s management has been discussing the design of new signs for the airport entrance.
According to Sprenger, “The new interchange will do several things.” It will enhance transportation in and around Belgrade, while also improving emergency services by avoiding the railroad tracks. From a regional standpoint, the airport will be easier to access; people driving to the airport will be able to avoid the traffic in downtown Belgrade. Sprenger also expects the interchange to improve development opportunities for businesses that rely on the airport for travel opportunities and an incoming customer base.
Continued development is on the horizon at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, bringing new travel opportunities to residents and tourists. One year ago, our local airport became the busiest passenger airport in the entire state. Growth at the airport has been encouraging economic growth in Bozeman and surrounding communities, and will continue to do so by offering more tourists the opportunity to visit and more residents the opportunity to explore elsewhere.