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Billings airport seeks federal grant for new direct flights to California

Billings airport travelers.PNG
Posted at 5:47 PM, Apr 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-12 19:47:23-04

BILLINGS — Billings Logan International Airport recently underwent a massive $60 million expansion project, but for many Billings residents looking to travel, the cheapest option often involves a two-hour drive to Bozeman.

And that is causing some Billings residents to say more changes need to be made.

"I got friends that are traveling there (Bozeman) today and flying out of there because of the prices. I mean it’s a big difference, it’s ridiculous to be honest with you," said Billings traveler Jason McKittrick on Wednesday.

Bozeman is far and away Montana’s busiest airport and more Billings residents are flocking west in favor of more airline options and cheaper prices.

"Prior to 2020 when the air service got really disrupted, we were usually losing three to four percent to Bozeman, as far as people leaving Billings and driving to Bozeman for air service. And that number has now grown to around nine percent," Allison Corbyn, director of business recruitment and economic development, for the Big Sky EDA said Wednesday.

The Big Sky EDA is seeking help to bring a new direct flight from Billings to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

"We’ve been talking to airlines throughout the years but now we’re really investing heavily into doing more. And so, I think this is one piece to getting that ball rolling," added Corbyn.

New airport director Jeff Roach is working on those other pieces.

"In Billings, after California, we’re looking at places like Nashville and Orlando as top destinations," said Roach.

Earlier this year Billings slipped from the second busiest airport in the state, to number four, falling behind Missoula and Kalispell. That's despite the multi-million dollar expansion and renovation of the airport.

"We're expanding and updating our airport terminal ensure that our facilities are in place, and we have the capacity to meet the needs of our traveling public. As well as the air carriers that serve Billings international airport," added Roach.

Billings needs $750,000 to apply for this new federal grant from the Small Community Air Service Development Program, and so far $300,000 has been raised through private donations. The airport needs an additional $450,000 to reach the threshold to apply for the new grant. The city won a similar grant in 2017 to add a direct flight to Dallas on American Airlines.

"What we would be doing is providing a revenue guarantee from the community, and so we’re asking businesses now to help contribute to that to match the grant to make it so it’s less risky for an airline to come in and start a new route," Corbyn added.

But until then, many say they’ll continue to drive to Bozeman until prices in Billings become more competitive.

"It’s just a matter of economics. Basic economics, supply and demand. You charge too much; they’re going to go away," said Billings traveler Bob Skillestad on Wednesday.