Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Millions earmarked for Bozeman, West Yellowstone airports

by Alex Miller

The first round of money for Montana airports set aside in the infrastructure package is coming.

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and the Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone will receive $4.2 million and $1 million, respectively, from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for fiscal year 2022.

The bill, which was signed into law on Nov. 15, guaranteed $144 million for Montana airports over a five year period – including a total $21.71 million for Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and $5.03 million for Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone

The money comes from the Federal Aviation Administration and is the first round of cash awarded to 69 Montana airports from the infrastructure package, according to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s office.

Tester said in the release that the money would be used for “urgently needed” repairs to Montana’s airports.

“Montana’s airports are essential to keeping our state connected and our economy strong,” Tester said in the release.

Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, who voted against the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, said in a statement to the Chronicle that he was pleased to see Montana airports get funding, but called the infrastructure bill a “trojan horse” that would add $400 billion to the national debt.

An August report from the Congressional Budget Office indicated that the bill would increase the National Debt by $256 billion, would decrease direct spending by $110 billion, increase revenues by $50 billion and increase discretionary spending by $415 billion over a decade.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who also voted against the infrastructure package, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport Director Brian Sprenger said that the incoming money would help to move up projects from 2023 to this upcoming year.

Sprenger said that general and business aviation ramps would be resurfaced with fresh asphalt, and that tie-down ramps at the airport would be expanded.

Tie-down ramps are for the smaller, lightweight aircraft, like Cessnas, that could be blown by a strong wind. Sprenger didn’t say whether this had happened before at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, but at airports with high winds, it’s a possibility.

“They’re designed to fly, so if you get high winds, they want to fly,” Sprenger said.

Yellowstone Airport Manager Jeff Kadlec said the $1 million that the airport will receive will be used for an airport terminal improvement project. Work on the project includes upgrades to the terminal area, expanding utilities, increased parking and work on roads at the airport.

The plans have been in the works for some time, and come on the heels of adding a new United Airlines flight to Denver this summer at the West Yellowstone-based airport. The cost of the terminal improvement project is still being determined, Kadlec said.

“We haven’t changed our direction or focus to anything else other than the terminal as we’re watching the economy and material pricing,” Kadlec said.

The infrastructure package money would not directly pay for the projects, however. Sprenger said that the airport has to pay for the work first, and the federal money would come as a reimbursement. The amount of money is determined by a needs formula, which calculates the number of enplanements – how many people get on a plane – an airport gets each year.

Sprenger said that the airport is on its way to breaking its previous enplanements record from 2019. He estimated the airport is on track to have 970,000 enplanements this year. The record in 2019 was 785,000, Sprenger said.

That formula for distributing money from the FAA for this pool of money is similar to the one that the federal agency uses for Airport Improvement Grants. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport received a $4.5 million grant from the FAA in September.

That money will be used to move hangars used by the pair of flight schools at the airport from the south side to the north side of the complex.

Sprenger said that Airport Improvement Grant money comes every year, but the extra money from the infrastructure package doesn’t hurt.

“This is additional money which allows us to move up projects so we can accelerate things, which is great in our current growth environment,” Sprenger said.