Airport moves forward with $100 million expansion

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The Flathead Municipal Airport Authority last week approved a draft concept and budget for an expansion of Glacier Park International Airport, a project that will cost nearly $100 million.

The project will be “the largest building expansion in the airport’s history,” according to a press release from the airport. The tentative start date for construction is September 2020.

The expansion will be the airport’s first significant renovation in 20 years. Since the last major expansion in 1999, passenger volumes have more than doubled. Airport Director Rob Ratkowski said the 20-year passenger forecasts show dramatically increased numbers of travelers.

“To support the growing demand for air service into the Flathead Valley, this expansion is an absolute necessity,” he said, noting the terminal “is currently at maximum capacity during the peak summer months.”

Since 1975, Glacier Park International has averaged 6% growth annually, will the national average is about 3%.

The expansion will be a build-out of the airport’s north wing. Ratkowski said he hopes “the space will fit operations much better.” They expect to build six full-size holding rooms with jet bridges. The project calls for adding one security lane to the existing three, with room for six lanes in security overall. The expansion also will include larger circulation areas, the return of the greeter lobby and the placement of most food options inside the security checkpoint.

The airport also will gain a holding space with an in-line baggage system with technology that offers faster, more automated and more space-efficient baggage service.

Ratkowski said he understands the airport is the “first and last contact” for air travelers to the Flathead Valley. “We take that really seriously, and we want to create a good experience for everybody.”

Funding for the expansion will come from the airport’s saved funds, loans, federal grants and contributions from air carriers. The current mill levy supporting the airport, which accounts for roughly 10 percent of total airport revenue, is not expected to change with the expansion.

About $5.7 million worth of funding will also come from entitlement money and discretionary money that the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program provides to the airport annually. Ratkowski said “continued support from the FAA and our congressional delegation makes consistent progress possible for our facility and we’re grateful to have their backing.”

The $100 million price tag for the expansion is proportionate to the budgets of similar airport projects across Montana, the press release stated.

The upcoming steps to begin the improvements include selecting a contractor and finalizing design concepts and contracts. Specialty airport planning and design firm Mead & Hunt Inc. is supporting the expansion with technical, design and planning guidance. The Mead & Hunt team includes local firms CTA Architects, Robert Peccia and Associates and Big Sky Public Relations.

Ratkoswki said he understands the airport plays an “interwoven and complex role in the community,” and he wants to keep community members updated regularly throughout the expansion process.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at bserbin@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.

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