BILLINGS — About a month before the busy season takes off at Billings Logan International Airport, construction workers are making headway on phase two of a $60 million terminal expansion project, said Kevin Ploehn, airport director of aviation and transit, on Tuesday.
"It's starting to come together. This is phase two. They'll get this piece completed, then hopefully we can move everybody from the old B concourse into this new area, then we'll start making the new B concourse look better," Ploehn said.
Workers got done laying the concrete for the main floor of concourse A and parts of the roof were starting to come together on Monday, Ploehn said. The expansion will allow the airport to handle more flights and give it an updated look and feel. The project is expected to be complete in 2023.
Ploehn said the city, which owns the airport, likely saved about $20 million by starting financing work on the project in April 2020 near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. If construction would have been delayed, the airport could have been locked into a higher interest rate, Ploehn said.
"From talking to our contractor, he says all the stuff that they are bidding right now is probably about 30 percent higher than it was. You take a $60 million project and you add 30 or 33 percent to that, it’s another $20 million. So, we’re pretty happy we got going when we did," Ploehn said.
Ploehn said there wasn't much of a bond market for airports during the pandemic, but they found a lender with First Interstate Bank and wrapped up a deal in July 2020 with construction starting on terminal A in August 2020.
"There wasn’t a whole lot of people interested in airport bonds at that point in time. We were kind of trying to weigh the financial package and should we get going, should we not get going?” Ploehn said.
Phase one of the project started in September 2019 and was wrapped up in early 2020. It included some smaller items of construction like a stairwell accessible to those with disabilities, and removal of the airport deli to add supports for a new skylight over the TSA screening area.
“It was just a bunch of messy little internal projects that we had to get done," Ploehn said.
Ploehn said the start of 2021 has been shaping up to be much better than 2020, when passenger counts fell off a cliff. In 2019, Billings Logan set a record with 904,873 passengers, and Ploehn said this year is near that pace.
In April 2021, the number of people who went through security was 77 percent of the number seen in April 2019.
"We're way further up along the lines than you are going to see around the rest of the country. Bozeman is already way past all of that. People are already coming to the state and traveling. We've got people leaving. I mean, we're seeing a lot more activity right now already," Ploehn said.
Air travel usually starts picking up in Billings around the second week of June and peaks in July or August, Ploehn said.
Airlines are beefing up their destinations this summer, Ploehn said. There are 20 percent more seats available for purchase this year than there were in 2019, Ploehn said.
Allegiant started up direct flights to Portland, Oregon, this month. It will also offer summer direct flights to Los Angeles and San Diego.
As well, Ploehn said American Airlines will start up a direct flight to Chicago that will run from June through October.
Ploehn said with more airplanes coming in and out of the airport, the schedule will be more compacted. So if people need to catch a flight this summer, they should arrive about an hour and 15 minutes before takeoff.
“We have been fortunate enough to see planes leaving about every half hour in the morning. We’re now going to start seeing some of them doubling up. When that happens, we usually have a little bit of a delay at the TSA line," Ploehn said.
To learn more about the airport expansion project and view concept drawings and a fly-thru video of the finished project is expected to look like, visit the airport's website by clicking here.