Billings-Logan International Airport
taking off into a smooth economic future
Riding the headwinds; Billings Logan International Airport has a clear path ahead
Welcoming passengers to stunning Big Sky Country, Billings Logan International Airport also serves as the perfect gateway to the community of Billings, the largest city in the state of Montana, boasting some 120,000 residents. Passengers, whether on business or set on touring the area, can enjoy the top-tier amenities that this busy airport can offer.
“We have an airport with a significant amount of capacity,” Jeff Roach, the director of aviation and transit for the City of Billings says, citing a 10,500-foot main runway providing more than enough capacity for the largest commercial and military aircraft to operate, and the airport does indeed see a lot of such aircraft traffic.
In addition to overseeing the busy operations at Billings Logan, Roach also holds the dual role of overseeing MET Transit, a 40-vehicle transit fleet for the City.
When describing the airport’s operational capabilities, Roach points out that currently there’s one FBO (or fixed-based operator) that’s been in operation at the airport for decades: Edwards Jet Center. It provides full-service FBO operations and can handle any situation that arises for aviation operations. A second full-service FBO is currently under construction, scheduled to open this autumn.
The airport has on-base flight schools, and nearby Rocky Mountain College has a flight program that also operates at the airport. Roach adds there’s a related business park with a number of government entities focused on wildland firefighting, something critically important in a state as mountainous and heavily forested as Montana. He continues that in recent weeks, firefighters have taken to the skies from Billings Logan to combat the enormous wildfires in neighboring Canada.
“We become a tanker base and a wildland firefighting regional base of operations when the need arises in the area,” says Roach.
Billings Logan is the busiest air freight operation in the state. Both Fed-Ex and UPS operate there daily. They deliver air freight that’s then transferred to smaller aircraft, serving a multi-state region with smaller aircraft air-freight operations out of Billings.
Capital improvements taking flight
Roach cites ongoing capital improvements, including being in the final year of a $60 million terminal renovation and expansion. This project is focused on the secure side of the terminal. Before, the terminal was 160,000 square feet, with six gates, four of them being jet bridge gates. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, such gates are enclosed, movable connectors that usually extend from airport terminal gates to airplanes, letting passengers board and disembark without going outside in inclement weather. The terminal of the future will be completed in the spring and boast 220,000 square feet, with nine gates, eight of them jet bridge gates. Sletten Construction is the prime contractor.
Of this $60 million project, he adds that $43.7 million comes from the feds, and there’s some $16.3 million in local funding.
“We are able to complete this project with virtually no debt service,” he notes. “We are very pleased with that. We’ve certainly gone a long way to make sure that we are being economical in our construction project, but also striving to meet the capacity needs of the future.”
As the terminal project nears completion, airport officials will be implementing a master plan update. Roach reveals that means receiving federal funding in the next federal fiscal year and taking a long look at the next two decades.
Two smaller projects have also just been completed: a baggage claim/restroom renovation and the recarpeting of the terminal’s entire non-secure side, baggage claim/ticketing, and entryways. Another recent project was the reconstruction of the airfield ramp, including repaving efforts.
“We’re redoing that surface with four inches of asphalt and 16 inches of concrete,” says Roach. “That will allow the aircraft maneuvering around the new B Concourse jet bridge gates a much more solid surface for the larger aircraft that will be operating out of those jet bridge gates.”
Rather like Germany’s famous Autobahn (well known for the depth of its paving), the deeper the concrete, the longer the road surface lasts, as Roach points out.
Another side project involves relocating a midfield service road so the new FBO will have sufficient ramp space for parking and maneuvering aircraft. It will also allow for installing a fifth cargo pad, Roach reveals.
“Our four cargo pads are almost in continuous use by Fed-Ex and UPS,” he informs. “We need the fifth pad to allow for expansion and as a way to move air operations so that we can redo the four older pads. We’ll do those one at a time. We’ll replace those pads as they near the end of their useful life.”
Landing a desirable location
Roach extols the airport’s prime location, allowing it to serve a multi-state region that is full of natural and cultural tourism opportunities.
“We have the most beautiful drive to Yellowstone from our airport, that being the Beartooth Highway that enters the Yellowstone National Park in the northeast corner,” he reveals. “Beartooth Highway goes up over Beartooth Pass, which is over 10,000 feet before it drops down into the park. It is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the country.”
The site of Custer’s Last Stand is also nearby, as well as a number of archeological areas that are incorporated into state parks and national forest lands.
“We’re the only commercial-service airport that serves eastern Montana,” Roach says “and as such, we are really the hub for a very large geographic area. We’re the largest community in a 500-mile radius. We are about 500 miles from Denver and other large communities. As the largest community, we also serve as the business hub for a very large agricultural area, a very important petroleum development area, a regional medical hub, as well as essential services for more than half the state of Montana and the surrounding region.”
It’s an area of much economic activity. Roach cites nearby oil refineries owned by Phillips 66 and Exxon-Mobil. St. Vincent’s Hospital, Billings Clinic are major employers, Rocky Vista University, a new medical school, and Montana State University at Billings are local economic drivers.
“We serve a strong economic area here from the airport,” says Roach. “The airport itself only has about 50 employees, but we have more than 2,000 employees that work out of, or are part of the airport.”
He notes Billings makes up about 17 percent of Montana’s population, but 22 percent of the state’s gross domestic product (or GDP). Another factor is that Billings has a very diverse economic base, with workers in a number of different areas so the city is able to weather downturns in some industries.
What does the future look like for Billings Logan? Roach looks into his metaphorical crystal ball and comes up with some positive prognostications. He cites the airport’s huge amount of airside capacity, such as that big main runway.
“We have two additional runways, a crosswind runway and a general aviation runway, and a taxiway system that will handle many more aircraft than currently serve Billings he says. But it’s on the landside where I see our future development and increasing capabilities. At times, our parking areas are at capacity, particularly at peak holidays and spring break, so we’re looking at ways to expand our parking capacity. One of those may be through the development of a parking garage either for public car parking or for the rental-car facility that takes up some of the parking in front of the terminal.”
“We do collect customer facility charges,” he adds, “and we can use those for rental-car facilities, so we’re looking at how we are going to address parking in the future. In addition, the front of the terminal or the non-secure side of the terminal was completed in 1992, and it’s in need of updates for cosmetics but also for efficiency for our passengers. We want to improve and expand our ticket counter area and baggage handling system, as well as update our baggage claim system.” All of these efforts will continue the effort to meet current and future customer needs.
Roach hypothesizes that the markets for both commercial and passenger airline businesses in Billings will only grow in the next few years. He foresees an exponential increase, in fact, in the number of purchased tickets. The airport has a tremendous capacity for additional air service activity, he adds, and things can and will only get better and better.
“We have numerous opportunities!” he enthuses, citing all Montana has to offer for recreation and culture, and that’s what makes the airport an ideal jumping-off spot for travelers.
Indeed, those opportunities are as big as the Big Sky Country itself.
*photo credit Larry Mayer
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AT A GLANCE
Billings Logan International Airport
Where: Billings, Montana