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The Missoula International Airport is the recipient of an $850,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The funds will go toward the design and preliminary work required to build a new ramp on the east end of the airport, according to Cris Jensen, airport director. He said construction on the ramp will begin in 2013.

“This is entitlement money, so it’s really our money based on the number of travelers we have here,” Jensen said.

Announcement of the grant came Monday from the office of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who noted the money is designed to increase efficiency and safety at the airport. The new ramp will accommodate traffic flow for parking, loading and unloading passengers, and rehabilitating the taxiway, according to a news release from his office.

“This is a smart investment that will support construction jobs in the short term and bring good-paying jobs to Montana in the long haul,” Baucus said in a statement. “Reliable transportation infrastructure is a cornerstone of our economy.”

Typically, the Missoula International Airport receives roughly $2.1 million a year in entitlement funds, according to airport director Jensen. He said this year, Missoula requested less of its allocation, but the remainder will be available to the airport next year in addition to its usual entitlement, slated to increase to an estimated $2.3 million.

“Next year, when the FAA gives us a grant for the actual construction, the grant will end up another $1.5 million,” or thereabouts, Jensen said.

The funds this year will go toward design, preliminary surveying, and geotechnical services, he said.

The project will rehabilitate and expand an existing “apron” on the east end of the airport around Northstar and Neptune Aviation. The ramp is old and needs to be refurbished, Jensen said, and the project will help a variety of airport users, such as cargo carriers, FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, and private aircraft owners.

In the past decade, traffic at the airport increased every year except 2008, when it was 287,934 enplanements, Jensen said. It’s typically up 2 percent a year on average, and he anticipates the same bump the current year for a total of 300,000 enplanements, or 600,000 total passengers in and out.

“Right now, as we look forward, we see an increase in capacity,” Jensen said.

All told, he said Missoula has nonstop flights to 11 destinations, and that’s equivalent to the airport in Spokane, Wash. This spring, Allegiant added a direct flight to Oakland, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Horizon Airlines recently put in direct service to Portland, Ore.

To add another low-cost carrier, Missoula is once again trying to bring in Frontier Airlines, which already operates in Montana out of Great Falls, Bozeman and Billings. Jensen said the community needs to be willing to support it.

“At this point, we’re in competition with a lot of airports that would like Frontier as well, so we need to do the best job we can to sell ourselves to them,” Jensen said.

The airport also is finishing its new traffic control tower, a $6.7 million project that should be complete at the end of September, he said. The tower is slated to have state-of-the-art air traffic control equipment.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

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