Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport File

A United Airlines flight prepares for take off on Tuesday afternoon, March 19, 2019, at the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.

The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport has seen a 23 percent increase in passenger traffic so far in 2019 and is once again on track to have a record-breaking year.

“Just like everything else in the valley, it’s hard to imagine where we’re going,” said airport director Brian Sprenger.

He attributes the increase this winter to the good ski season, additional local resident travel and the Ikon Pass, a new multi-resort ski pass that includes Big Sky, and he doesn’t foresee growth slowing.

Over the last nine years, passenger traffic has doubled and is estimated to reach 1.3 million people in 2019 and 1.6 million in 2020.

In 2018, the airport added year-round daily flights to Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and Los Angeles, bringing the total number of year-round daily flights to nine — five more than a few years ago. Sprenger said this growth isn’t contingent upon tourists and is because of the area’s strong economy.

Last year, the airport also added seasonal service to Long Beach, California, and Detroit and brought in JetBlue, bringing its total number of destinations to 17 and airlines to seven.

Because the airport has surpassed the size of the state’s other airports, Sprenger is looking to Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington, as indicators of how future growth could look.

As growth continues, Sprenger foresees the airport becoming large enough that Southwest might consider offering flights.

In the past, airlines accommodated the increased traffic by providing larger planes but have started adding flights, as well. Even though the number of available seats has increased, prices haven’t dropped, indicating there is still unmet demand, which is why the airport is now expanding the terminal about two years earlier than initially scheduled, Sprenger said.

The $27 million expansion project will add 70,000 square feet to the west side of the concourse and will include four new gates, a third restaurant inside security, retail stores, a baggage handling area, passenger boarding bridges and a larger terminal apron to serve additional planes.

To manage the growth, the airport also is completing $2.5 million in infrastructure upgrades this year, some of which is for the 33 new hangars it will soon have.

Nearing completion is a $30 million parking garage, which is scheduled to open mid-June.

Twenty-five percent of airport traffic is tourists, which bolsters the local economy while also stressing local infrastructure, said Gallatin County Commissioner Don Seifert. For that reason, as the airport grows, Gallatin County needs to think about how it will accommodate its new visitors.

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