OCTOBER 09, 2015 6:00 AM • BY MARTIN KIDSTON
Airport representatives in Missoula and Bozeman are scheduled to meet with American Airlines next month to pitch nonstop service to Dallas-Fort Worth.
The two Montana cities have collected roughly $2.2 million to offer as an incentive to the airline, though they’re confident the new flight would stand on its own and such guarantees would not be needed.
“We’d be doubling (American’s) market size and furthering the enhancement of the cash incentive,” said James Grunke, director of the Missoula Economic Partnership. “That’s how we worked the airline with Frontier. It was a shared aircraft between Great Falls and Missoula. It makes sense to us strategically.”
In a meeting this week with Missoula County commissioners, Grunke said Missoula International Airport will continue to lobby its existing carriers to expand service, such as year-round flights to Chicago and San Francisco, while seeking opportunities for new routes.
The flight to Dallas-Fort Worth has been identified as one of Missoula’s top 10 requested destinations. Airport officials have said it could help drive down local fares by creating new city-pair listings.
Service to New York, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii also remains on the list of destinations.
“They continue to have that conversation,” Grunke said of service to Honolulu. “It would be a once-a-week flight from Missoula to Honolulu, but there’s been no real progress on that. It’s something they continue to look at, but they’re always approaching all the airlines looking for new service.”
Cris Jensen, director of Missoula International Airport, said airport officials will be meeting with the city’s current carriers during the next two months to discuss new or expanded service.
Five airlines currently serve Missoula International Airport with 12 nonstop flights to U.S. hubs.
“We’ll know more about what the future looks like in the next few months,” Jensen said. “We’re trying to expand existing service, and we’ll be talking to our carriers about new routes. It’s an ongoing effort.”
Jensen said airport officials are also preparing their pitch to American Airlines.
While Missoula did not receive the Small Community Air Service Development grant it had sought from the U.S. Department of Transportation this year, Bozeman did land the $750,000 agency grant.
Missoula business leaders, along with Destination Missoula, have raised $500,000 toward the Dallas-Fort Worth route. Combined with Bozeman, the two cities have $2.2 million to offer as an incentive to American.
The money serves as a guarantee to cover any potential loss to the airline.
“Any meetings we go to, we give them reasons to consider Missoula for new or expanded service,” Jensen said. “It’s about building relationships. We don’t base the service simply on getting the grant. It has to make economic sense.”
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