Missoula airport lands $1.4M from FAA for passenger terminal

The first piece of funding committed to the design and construction of a new passenger terminal at Missoula International Airport was announced on Tuesday.

The $1.4 million award from the Federal Airport Improvement Program will help complete the design of the city’s new eight-gate passenger terminal, which is expected to begin construction next year.

“This investment will immediately create jobs and bolster Missoula’s physical infrastructure,”  Sen. Jon Tester said in announcing the funding. “It will also have huge economic benefits over the long term by increasing the number of visitors, residents and business travelers flying in and out of the city each day.”

Over the past 20 years, the airport has experienced a 98 percent increase in passenger traffic. While the airport handled 383,000 passengers back in 1996, it served nearly 760,000 passengers last year.

Airport Director Cris Jensen said the current facility represents a patchwork of additions made over the years, and it’s poorly suited to handle today’s passenger counts. It’s also ill-equipped to handle today’s larger aircraft.

As a result, Jensen said, the airport has been forced to turn down offers from certain airlines hoping to fly into Missoula. The new terminal will help remedy such problems by increasing the number of flights and passengers the airport can accommodate.

“We’ve really grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade, so this new terminal building will double the capacity of our current facility, allowing us to accommodate more passengers, more flights and bigger aircraft,” said Jensen. “This is really the first funding dedicated to the design of the new terminal project.”

As envisioned, the project will take place in phases over several years, starting with the demolition of the current terminal’s western wing. The first portion of the new building will be constructed in its place while the existing terminal remains operational.

The process would then be reversed as the other half of the terminal is razed and replaced. The end result will create a new facility that spans roughly 175,000 square feet – up from the current 130,000. Modern travel amenities and security upgrades will also be incorporated into the building.

“We’re probably 75 percent of the way through the schematic design, and the final plan will be completed in September,” said Jensen. “We’ll move into the next step, which is doing the design documents for construction of the building. We’re still looking at a groundbreaking after Labor Day in 2018.”

The Missoula County Airport Authority approved a conceptual design for the project last year. It includes two concourses with eight passenger gates. The two wings will converge in a common area fronted by a panel of large windows.

While a final budget is pending the schematic designs, Jensen said no local property tax revenues will be used for construction of the new terminal.