January 24, 2017 at 6:00 am | Daily Inter Lake

Passenger count nears half-million

For a fifth consecutive year Glacier Park International Airport accommodated a record number of passengers in 2016, with nearly a half-million travelers using the airport.

A total of 492,522 passengers passed through the airport last year, surpassing the previous record year of 2015 by almost 5 percent.

The number of departing passengers was up 4.6 percent over 2015, with a total enplaned passenger count of 247,445. Arriving, or deplaned, passengers numbered 245,077, up 5.06 percent from 2015. July and August were the peak months last year, with 37,401 and 38,030 departing passengers respectively. All-time monthly passenger records were set in 10 months.

While July and August are historically strong months due to tourism demand, Airport Director Rob Ratkowski said in 2016 the large percentage gains came in the shoulder seasons.

“We saw strong growth through the spring and fall, including an increase of almost 20 percent for the month of September due to United Airlines keeping larger equipment in the market through the end of the month,” Ratkowski said in a press release. “We’re pleased that our airline partners continue to have confidence in our market.”

Ratkowski recognized the efforts of local economic development and community organizations that help to attract travelers to the Flathead valley.

“The strong passenger counts we saw at GPIA in 2016 are a reflection of the hard work done by our community partners like Glacier AERO, local chambers of commerce, and visitor and convention bureaus. They help bring people to the valley, and we provide the gateway for those travelers to access the community.”

Airline service at Glacier Park International Airport is provided by Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Allegiant Air. Cities with year-round service include Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Seattle. Additional cities with seasonal service include Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Portland.

The Glacier Airline Enhancement Regional Organization (AERO) helped secure new direct air service from San Francisco to Glacier Park International for the winter season. United Airlines is providing direct service to and from San Francisco on Saturdays through March 25. United also is providing Saturday flights to Chicago through April 1 and offered a Sunday flight through the holiday season in December.