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'A little bit pricey': Billings Logan International Airport falls to fourth busiest airport in Montana

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Posted at 3:55 PM, Feb 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-03 17:55:46-05

BILLINGS — New numbers this week showed Billings slipped from the second busiest airport in Montana to the fourth, now behind Bozeman, Missoula and Kalispell.

But for the airport's new Director of Aviation and Transit, Jeff Roach, this ranking is not concerning.

“I’m not concerned. There’s been a lot of fluctuation in airline number of flights and seats available based on factors that are outside the airport's control," Roach said on Thursday. "Like the pilot shortage, fuel prices, and other things that impact the airlines directly."

And Roach said some changes are coming to the airport.

“We have just approved a five-year contract with Mead and Hunt, which is an air-service development group that will work with us and the airlines to encourage airline expansion,” Roach said. “Right now, there are representatives from the Chamber of Commerce from Billings that are at the Mead and Hunt air-service development conference. They’re working with our consultant to meet with the airlines. I’ll be doing that in the future as well."

The first year of the contract will cost up to $25,000, he said. The price of the remaining four years is to be determined.

The airport is also in the middle of renovations, which Roach believes will encourage airlines to add more services in Billings.

"We’re in the middle of our air-side redevelopment of the terminal. So terminal A is open, terminal C is currently being worked on, and terminal B is just starting," Roach said. "We expect by the end of this year, early next year, we’ll be fully redeveloped on the air side with brand new gates for the airlines to come into. A lot of additional capacity. We’ll definitely be encouraging the airlines with our infrastructure to come to Billings."

And while ticket prices and seat availability are set by the airlines, Roach believes these improvements will make a big impact.

"We expect as we move forward in the spring and summer we’ll see additional seats available and additional flights. Probably beginning with additional service to markets we already serve," Roach said. "But we’ll encourage the airlines to also look at markets where Billings travelers are going, where they have to make connecting flights. Hopefully, we’ll initiate new flights to those locations."

But Billings travelers are growing frustrated by the high prices and limited availability.

“It should have better quality and better service I think,” said Billings traveler Mary Ann Jenkins on Thursday. "The price too, I think, makes a difference."

Jenkins lived most of her life in Billings before moving out of state, but still visits friends and family frequently.

"I have had friends that have flown into Bozeman. I know some people from here drive to Bozeman and drive back because it’s cheaper,” Jenkins said. “I think we need to perfect the scheduling of the airport better. But I also think they need to have better prices."

Another traveler from Sheridan, Wyoming, David Perfetti, said he sees this problem first-hand as a pilot for American Airlines. He was attempting to fly back to Billings from Dallas, Texas, on Thursday but had to book a flight through United after his other flight was delayed due to weather.

“I understand it’s $400. And it’s a little bit pricey just to go down for a 10-hour drive/ one-hour flight,” Perfetti said about his ticket price into Billings on Thursday. “If there’s more service, it would bring down the price. Seeing as too little service brings up the demand for those seats. So yes, bring in more flights. That would help everyone."

Perfetti said there's one main source to this problem.

“The problem is demand. Bozeman’s number one because they’ve got more tractions. So maybe the airlines don’t think the investment is worth putting the seats in here if they can’t fill them," Perfetti said. “If they’ve got a lot of other competition, it brings the price down. So it’s all about the seats available. So come on airlines, let’s step up."

But as Roach said, new changes to the airport could help the problem.

“For air-service development, the biggest thing we can do is communicate with the airlines the benefits of working with our airport and our community to encourage additional air service,” Roach said. “We have a lot going on for us in Billings with the new infrastructure that’s coming. With our location and with all of the benefits of being the largest city in Montana."