Pilot shortage impacts Missoula Montana Airport

Courtesy: Missoula Montana Airport

MISSOULA, Mont. - While airports are gearing up for the holiday season, airlines are already working on upcoming schedules. Right now, there are enough planes but airlines are facing a pilot shortage. 

That shortage could impact services in the coming months.

Missoula Montana Airport Director Brian Ellestad said the routes at the airport aren't at risk, however the frequency of those routes is. 

He is meeting with different airlines to work on the schedule. With the shortage, he's competing with all the other airports and has to sell the Missoula community to get the service.

He explained how the new terminal will also help. 

"The big thing is, it gives airlines flexibility," Ellestad said. "Where right now they have one gate and one gate only, in the new building we're designing in flexibility, so they can do multiple airplanes at one time... so, a lot more operational flexibility for them."

Construction of the new terminal is going right on schedule.

Crews are expanding the parking lot and finishing up the interior of the building, aiming to make it easier to navigate. Additionally, they're working to  make it more cozy and Missoula-like with wood finishing, a local coffee shop and brewery.

Looking ahead, the new building is planned to open early 2022 with a ribbon cutting ceremony and then operate fully in April. 

Other airports are also impacted by the pilot shortage.

Great Falls International Airport Director John Faulkner explained what it's losing.

"We're seeing service reductions," he said. "We're seeing Minneapolis, for example, is going to discontinue flying next week. And we aren't sure when we are getting that back. We've had that flight... gosh, it goes back to Northwest Airline two decades ago."

He added it's disproportionately hurting the smaller airports because there are more regional flights with smaller airplanes.

The pandemic sparked a number of pilot retirements, so that caused younger pilots to move up the ranks faster leaving a gap with these shorter flights.

On the flip side, Bozeman International Airport isn't seeing the same impacts because there aren't as many regional flights. Bigger airplanes fly in and out of the airport meaning there's senior staffing. 

Helena Regional Airport isn't reporting impacts of the shortage, yet. However, Director Jeff Wadekamper said it could happen before the holiday season. 

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