Tester Secures Senate Passage of Key Priorities for Montana’s Rural Airports

Senator’s bipartisan Small Community Air Service Enhancement Act will increase air service to Montana after clearing Senate in the must-pass FAA reauthorization bill

U.S. Senator Jon Tester successfully included his priorities for increasing affordable air service in Montana in legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that passed the Senate this past Thursday.   

“Reliable and affordable air service is essential for Montanans to run their businesses, see their friends and families, and stay connected with the rest of the country, but too often rural airports fall through the cracks,” said Tester. “That’s why I was proud to see my Small Community Air Service Enhancement Act clear the Senate to ensure Montana airports have more flights that cost less – and I’ll keep working to ensure folks in rural America is have a seat at the table.”

Tester advanced several big wins for Montana through the Senate in the must-pass FAA reauthorization bill, including his Small Community Air Service Enhancement Act that will helpsmall airports compete for grants to attract new air carrier service to their communities. The Senator’s Small Community Air Service Enhancement Act increases available funding for the Small Community Air Service Development Program and ensures airports who have experienced a significant reduction in air service are prioritized for selection.  

Tester worked to reauthorize the Essential Air Service program (EAS) to ensure Montana’s rural communities continue to have airline service options connecting them to larger hubs. Currently the Essential Air Service provides service to five eastern Montana communities: Glasgow, Glendive, Havre, Sidney, and Wolf Point. The Essential Air Service is also responsible for commercial flights in Butte and West Yellowstone.   

Tester also fought to strip a provision from the final FAA bill that would have required Montana communities to fund 5% of EAS contract costs annually. This requirement would have been detrimental to Montana, costingcommunities hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and likely leading to airlines services leaving areas that could not bear the weight of that cost.

Finally, Senator Tester worked to ensure that Montana’s fastest growing airports will be able to keep up with growing demand by providing resources for proper staffing and necessary infrastructure.  

“As Montana’s busiest airport, Bozeman Yellowstone is stretched thin trying to meet the growing demand while providing the top quality service folks have come to expect from our airlines and airport staff,” said Brian Sprenger, President & Chief Executive Officer, Bozeman Yellowstone Int’l Airport. “This bill will alleviate that strain by helping us staff up, add flights, and improve our operations across the board. We want to thank Senator Tester for keeping his foot on the gas to get this bill passed, and we look forward to continuing to work together to get these much-needed improvements done.”

“Montana’s rural airports are the gateway to some of the Treasure State’s greatest treasures – our national parks and public lands,” said Rob Ratowski, Airport Director, Glacier Airport. “With more visitors making their way to Glacier every year, we need all the help we can get keeping up with the rise in tourism while protecting critical routes that serve the local community. This funding will go a long way in ensuring we’ve got the resources we need to attract new air service, update critical technology and infrastructure, and support the recreational economy here in Flathead County. We’re lucky to have a partner in Senator Tester, who understands the need to invest in rural communities and lay the foundation for economic development well into the future.”  

“We’re grateful to Senator Tester for his continued leadership in promoting economic growth and supporting transportation infrastructure,” said Brian Ellestad, Airport Director, Missoula Montana Airport. “Enhancing the Small Community Air Service Development Program is critical to ensuring that travelers have continued access to the nation’s air transportation system. Missoula has successfully utilized this program to create new air service that has reduced air fare and created economic opportunities and good-paying jobs for our community.” 

“On behalf of the Billings Chamber of Commerce, I want to thank Senator Tester for his efforts to support and expand Montana’s transportation infrastructure,” said John Brewer, President & CEO, Billings Chamber of Commerce. “Aside from being the front door to Montana’s biggest city, Billings Logan Airport is a significant revenue generator for Yellowstone County, boosting local businesses and creating good-paying jobs for folks in our community. This money will improve operations and secure flights in and out of Billings, drive economic growth, and ensure that the Magic City prospers for generations to come.”

Tester has led the charge to upgrade Montana’s airport infrastructure. This past year he secured approximately $144 million for Montana’s airports through the IIJA, which will be awarded over five years. This funding can be used to construct or repair runways and taxiways as well as make terminal and gate improvements. Tester has also led the effort to lower costs and expand access to reliable air service in rural communities. In May, Tester introduced his bipartisan Small Community Air Service Enhancement Act to increase flight options for travelers in rural America.