New developments in the sky and on the ground

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American Airlines, the world’s largest passenger airline company, announced last week that it will service Glacier Park International Airport with three summer flights beginning in June. The new destinations include Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago.

This is a major win for the valley across multiple fronts.

Obviously, it will be another lift for Northwest Montana’s already booming tourism-based economy. More than $1.07 billion was spent by nonresident travelers in Northwest Montana in 2017. Those dollars, in turn, supported some 17,500 jobs.

What’s more, these new flights will also boost new economic development opportunities in the Flathead. A company is far more likely to set up shop in our remote corner without the hurdles of limited flights. The easier it is to commute from here to there, the easier it is for these companies to do business in our valley.

Congratulations to everyone who worked to secure these flights, namely the folks at Glacier Airline Enhancement and Retention Outreach. They were able to entice American without a minimum revenue guarantee, which shows how much confidence airlines have in our market.

So as we celebrate the potential economic boon these new flights bring, we are reminded that our airport remains in desperate need of more space to accommodate all these new passengers.

Glacier Park International Airport sees about 600,000 travelers annually, and that number is only going up. Airport Director Rob Ratkowski believes the current facility can handle the new flights, but he is quick to note that “it will be tight.” Growth estimates show that in 15 years our airport will see passenger volumes rivaling that of Bozeman, the busiest airport in the state.

Earlier this summer we reported on a plan to expand Glacier Park International’s terminal by some 40,000 square feet by 2022. The new American flights absolutely validate and highlight the urgency to make that timeline happen.

Also on the transportation front, the canyon communities of Hungry Horse, Martin City and Coram are celebrating the completion of a major infrastructure project.

The ribbon was cut Tuesday on the new U.S. 2 bridge over the South Fork of the Flathead River. The span features a separated pedestrian and bicycle crossing and will also have improved access to the South Fork. The road approaching the bridge has also been widened with broader shoulders.

Construction of the new bridge started in June 2017 by Great Falls contractor Sletten Construction and the finished product looks fantastic.

This much-needed bridge rebuild was worth the wait and should serve the area well for decades to come.

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