Daily Inter Lake | September 06, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Glacier Airline Enhancement and Retention Outreach, known as AERO, has secured new direct air service between San Francisco and Glacier Park International Airport for the upcoming winter season.

The nonprofit group also has expanded holiday air service for direct flights from Chicago, now entering their third season.

The following seasonal flights are currently available for booking:

San Francisco — United Airlines roundtrip flight to Glacier Park International Airport, Saturday direct (new service) offered Dec. 17, 2016, through March 25, 2017.

Chicago — United Airlines roundtrip flight, Saturday direct from Dec. 17, 2016, through April 1, 2017; Sunday direct (expanded service, new this year) from Dec. 18, 2016, through Jan. 1, 2017.

Glacier AERO’s focus on expanding air service to the Flathead Valley has been successful by raising money to underwrite the past two years of direct flights to Chicago in the form of a minimum revenue guarantee contract with United Airlines.

Funded by businesses and organizations from all economic sectors, the organization, with a matching grant from Flathead County Economic Development Authority, has provided $283,000 in revenue guarantee money to support the new and expanded service for the upcoming winter season.

The Chicago winter flights had a 67 percent load factor in 2014-15 and 84 percent in 2015-16, according to AERO. In the first year, the organization paid $17,000 to United Airlines for the revenue guarantee. In the second year, no money was required to be paid to United.

Glacier AERO representatives are actively raising money this fall to continue the momentum of support for expanded air service to additional key cities in the future.

The Whitefish and Kalispell convention and visitor bureaus have promoted the air service with marketing campaigns over the last two years and will continue doing so.

The past two seasons, the cooperative partnership between the Whitefish bureau and Whitefish Mountain Resort also has included funding from the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development.

This partnership was nominated for the 2015 Outstanding Tourism Campaign of the Year at the Montana Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Recreation. All of the marketing partners also are planning to advertise in the San Francisco market to support the new flight.

“New and expanded air service is vital to our tourism economy, especially during the shoulder seasons,” said Dylan Boyle, executive director of the Whitefish Convention and Visitor Bureau and an AERO board member.

“These flights provide us with a larger platform in key target markets to promote our outstanding winter visitor experience,” Boyle said in a press release. “Focusing on target markets where we have direct air service has yielded great success for us as we promote world-class skiing and snowboarding at Whitefish Mountain Resort, top-notch lodging and award-winning restaurants, as well as many other winter activities including the one-of-a-kind experience of visiting Glacier National Park during the winter.”

Boyle also noted the additional air service benefits not only winter tourism but also provides direct access to large markets for business and local leisure travel.

For more information on AERO, contact Glacier AERO Chairman Paul Johannsen at 406-212-4678 or email