091912 airport tower one tb.jpg

The Missoula International Airport’s new air traffic control tower was completed in September 2012.

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

Summer nonstop flights from Missoula to Portland, Ore., will return for the fourth year in 2014, but will spread into spring and fall this time.

Word came Wednesday from Missoula International Airport that Alaska Airlines has agreed to resume once-daily flights to the Oregon hub from May 11 through the end of September, and is considering extending the window through October.

For the past three years, the flights on Horizon Air, Alaska’s regional partner, began in early June and ended in late August.

“You’re starting out slow, you get the summer season, and the airlines now take the chance of widening that window,” deputy airport director Brian Ellestad said. “Then if that performs well, hopefully it turns into a year-round operation.”

The flights will leave Missoula at 3:55 p.m. and arrive 95 minutes later in Portland. The slightly shorter return flight departs Portland at 12:55 Pacific time and lands in Missoula at 3:25 p.m. local.

“This seasonal service will provide convenient access to one of our most popular destinations and open up numerous connection opportunities,” airport director Cris Jensen said in announcing the Portland flights. “It was extremely popular with our customers last summer.”

Data weren’t available for last year’s Portland flights, but Ellestad said the Seattle and Portland markets combined for better than 90 percent load factors.

Come June, 19 percent more seats will be available on nonstop flights out of Missoula than in 2013, Ellestad said.

Besides the Alaska/Horizon flights, Allegiant will bring back its flights from Missoula to Los Angeles and Oakland from June through August; Delta is adding a third round trip to Minneapolis in the summer and a second weekly stop flight to Atlanta, and United will again fly seasonal service to Chicago and San Francisco.

Alaska Airlines operates 11 nonstop flights to Seattle and Portland from six Montana airports – Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula.

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at kbriggeman@missoulian.com.

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