Niche park-n-ride business capitalizes off passenger growth at Missoula airport

Jeff Allen, center, joins fellow employees at Vigilante Parking on the Fly, strategically located just down the highway from Missoula International Airport. As the airport grows, so too does business at Vigilante. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Passenger growth at Missoula International Airport may be good for attracting new airlines to the Garden City, but it’s also good for entrepreneurial minds looking to capitalize on the airport’s business.

Just down the highway at Vigilante Parking on the Fly, manager Jeff Allen considered the year business began to surge. It occurred over Christmas in 2013, several years after passenger traffic at the airport began to take off – and never slow down.

“We just used to use this lot here, and I could fit maybe 20 cars,” Allen said, pointing out the window of his austere manager’s office. “But in Christmas 2013, it was plum full and it was the only place I could park cars. So I built a spot that would fit 20 more cars, and just by putting that up, the business starting increasing.”

Vigilante, branded by an old-West sheriff clad in a dark mustache, recently installed a new fenced lot with room for 160 cars, along with indoor garages that resemble self-storage units. The idea is simple in concept – airport passengers can pay $5 to $7 a day to leave their car at Vigilante or $8 a day at the airport.

While the trend is growing in popularity among short-term travelers, it’s also used by snowbirds – and there are plenty of them in western Montana, including the vice president of Costco, who serves as a Vigilante client.

“A lot of our customers are from out of state,” said Allen. “They fly in during the summer but leave their car here all year long. I have about 100 cars that are parked here by people who live out of state. Most of those people will be coming for summer.”

Last year, passenger numbers at the airport set an all-time record for the fourth consecutive year. The facility handled more than 772,000 travellers, marking a 2-percent increase over 2016.

Since 2000, the airport has seen a 68-percent increase in passengers. This year, the number of passengers is expected to increase another 5 to 7 percent over last year’s figures as American Airlines enters the market and other carriers add new destinations and larger aircraft.

The continued growth has the airport looking to the future, including the construction of a new passenger terminal, which is expected to begin early next year. In more distant years, airport officials are also eyeing the possibility of building structured parking to accommodate the growth.

As it stands, the long-term parking lots outside the terminal are nearly always full, and the airport last year expanded parking to the west after removing several dated aircraft hangars.

“Those parking lots down there are plum full, all the time, so there’s a lot business to be had,” Allen said. “We’ve been growing every year because of it. This year is better than last year, so we’re seeing increases all the time.”

Vigilante was founded by the McCue family in 1973 and claims to be have been the second storage facility built in Montana. It’s still owned by members of the family, though Allen has served as the manager for the past six years.

“If the airport keeps growing and we keep growing, we’d probably be able to employ more people as our revenues go up,” Allen said. “I think people are starting to find us, and telling their friends about it.”