Call it the Great Texas Air Rush.
Weeks after American Airlines landed its first flight from Dallas/Fort Worth in Bozeman, officials in Missoula and Billings received word Thursday they’ll receive $600,000 and $750,000, respectively, in federal grant money to court nonstop air service of their own to and from the Lone Star State.
They’re two of nine small communities to receive $5.15 million in grants from the Small Community Air Service Development Program, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced.
“It’s kind of the first step in making that service to Texas a reality,” Missoula airport director Cris Jensen said.
While Billings specifically targeted American Airlines service to Dallas/Fort Worth, Missoula is casting a wider net.
“We left ours open to where we could either go to Houston with United or Dallas-Fort Worth with American,” said Jensen.
The announcement came on the heels of one earlier in the week in which Allegiant Airline would expand to year-round its non-stop service to Los Angeles. In May the airport received $1.3 million in federal funding to construct a new taxiway.
Missoula’s $600,000 grant goes toward a revenue guarantee to assure an airline won't lose money by coming to town. In addition, it’ll be used for marketing, fee waivers and ground handling for the airline.
The $600,000 must be matched with $400,000 from the community. The airport will kick in another $200,000 worth of services for a total package of $1.2 million.
Jen Ewan of the Missoula Economic Partnership said pledges to cover the community’s commitment are in. Now it’s a matter of collecting them from backers in Missoula and the surrounding area, including Seeley Lake, Philipsburg and the Bitterroot Valley.
Jensen said the earliest the Texas connection will start is next summer. He is heading for Dallas to meet with airline officials.
“It takes some time to get everything figured out,” he said.
Missoula International Airport previously received a Small Communities grant to bring in nonstop service to San Francisco in 2008 and has continued to apply for the grant to expand its services.
The project description of this year’s application stated: “In light of its isolation and dependence on air transportation, the community seeks to address what it sees as a lack of adequate service to the southern United States with its proposal. The community notes that Missoula-Texas passenger numbers have increased greatly in recent years, and that additional service is needed to meet this demand.”
“The important thing for people to understand is it’ll only be as successful as they let us be,” Jensen said. “New competition into the market will drive prices down. We’d have another legacy carrier with American in the market, so we’ll really want people to take advantage of it.”
The Billings grant of $750,000 will be used for a revenue guarantee and marketing program for American Airlines for non-stop service to Dallas/Fort Worth.
“The community states that it is isolated and has experienced service reductions, and seeks to address these issues with its proposed new service which, it states, will benefit local businesses and industries, and in particular the oil and gas industry,” the Billings project description said.
The Small Community Air Service program was started in 2002. In 2016 the Department of Transportation received 36 grant applications from communities in 24 states seeking more than $18.5 million. Other cities receiving the funding: Bullhead City, Arizona; Inyokern and Stockton, California; Hailey, Idaho; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Amarillo, Texas, and Port Angeles, Washington.
“Robust, dependable air service plays an important role in every community’s ability to connect to the national and global economies,” Foxx said in announcing the grant awards, adding the program “has a tremendous record of making a lasting impact.”