Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
Growing by Leaps and Bounds
One of fastest growing airports in the nation, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is investing in aviation upgrades to land increased aviation traffic
Nestled down in the southwestern corner of Montana you will find this beautiful small city, Bozeman. The brick architecture, wild west feels, and the Rocky Mountains truly set Bozeman apart – as many have come to realize. It has been called the most livable place in the country.
It is not hard to recognize why, located in the heart of Gallatin Valley, this is a paradise for the outdoors-oriented. There is fly fishing, dramatic mountains for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing, hunting, and backcountry exploring Yellowstone National Park, and impressive wildlife.
This explains how Montana’s busiest airport came to be the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) which provides the only year-round service for two Yellowstone National Park entrances. They also serve Big Sky Ski Resort, Bridger Bowl Ski Area, Montana State University, as well as countless other recreation and business destinations in the Bozeman, Belgrade, and Livingston areas.
“We handle about 2.3 million passengers annually which make us roughly the 92nd busiest airport in the nation and the seventh busiest airport in the northwest part of the United States,” says Brian Sprenger, Chief Executive Officer at the airport. “From an aircraft operations standpoint, we see about 115,000 annual operations.”
Sprenger has seen much of the success himself, who got his first job at the airport 40 years ago cleaning airliner aircraft overnight.
“I eventually got into the airline industry and worked in that industry for about almost 15 years before I switched over to the airport side. In the airline industry, I worked in such great places as Canada, Hawaii, and even the headquarters for Northwest Airlines in Minnesota. But I kept coming back to Montana and was able to come back to the airport authority here and jump to the airport side back in 1999. The previous airport director took me under his wing for a number of years. So, I’ve been at the airport authority for 24 years and Chief Executive Officer for the past 14.”
From a commercial airline point of view, BZN has nonstop service to 22 destinations coast to coast and is served by Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Sun Country, and United. This amounts to some 20,000 flights per year. Which does not count some 18,000 business jet operations and then the general aviation traffic.
With an airport of this size handling that amount of traffic you can imagine that there is always infrastructure that must be improved. Sprenger points out, however, that there has been consistent growth since the pandemic and that if you compare numbers pre 2020 their passengers have increased by 50 percent.
“Our most recent upgrade at the airport has been the near doubling of our parking lot capacity,” Sprenger explains, “we have had such a growth in demand, and we are trying to improve our customer experience on every level. Now that the parking lot is finished our next project which we are in the midst of right now is a state-of-the-art upgrade of our baggage system. This will be for outbound baggage and tagging with the Transportation Security Administration and will bring our baggage handling system in line with the major hubs across the country, just on a much smaller scale.”
He goes on to explain that “the project is about 60% complete and obviously, anytime you’re working on something that has to operate while you’re rebuilding, well, that creates many challenges. We have great contractors, engineers, and architects on this project, and it is worth it because from a TSA screening standpoint as well as baggage delivery to the airlines for outbound flights we will greatly increase our capacity.”
“We are also proud to have developed the system to be state of the art in handling skis. What we’ve done is design the entry point and the delivery point for skis to be the same for the airlines as all the rest of their luggage. I believe we will be one of the first airports in the country to do this and it requires a lot of engineering design – but we have a lot of skiers who use this airport all winter and skis, given their length and weight, create problems for the regular baggage systems. We are very excited to be taking such an innovative approach because it is going to create a lot of efficiency for our airlines, as well as our passengers.”
From a general and corporate aviation standpoint, the airport has been upgrading infrastructure with the same gusto. They have recently completed a major north-side ramp project that will allow for the expansion of the two flight schools on the north side. In the next year, they will also start a complete redevelopment of the general aviation ramp on the South side that will allow for much bigger hangars for the three fixed base operators: Jet Aviation, Yellowstone Jet Center, and Million Air.
In 2020 BZN completed an expansion of concourse B. They are also adding an additional food and beverage concession, BZN Marketplace for our B Concourse. Also on tap for this year is a substantial increase in queuing areas for the security checkpoint.
Longer term, the airport is in the design phase for a $170 million terminal expansion on the east side that will also increase baggage claim capacity by threefold and will take all of the oldest gates which were designed for smaller aircraft, and increase them to be more in line for the 150 plus seat airplanes that make up the bulk of their commercial traffic. They will also be adding concessions to the A concourse as well as greatly expanding the office and administrative capacities on the third level.
“A lot is going on and we work with the community and the county to make sure it benefits everyone,” Sprenger explains, “primarily those entities up on the mountain and also our local chamber of commerce as well as our tourism entities such as Yellowstone Country and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to help develop air service into and out of the airport. We have a great air service team that has been successful for over a decade plus attracting unparalleled air service into the region.”
“Our two flight schools are world-class and have made such a difference, Ridgeline Aviation, and Summit Aviation have been involved in the airport for over a decade. They were instrumental in us constructing a parallel runway here at the airport to allow for increased flight school traffic. That runway is still one of the most recent full runways built in the United States. Summit Aviation is affiliated with the Gallatin College Program – and we are fortunate that we have the opportunity to train tomorrow’s pilots here at BZN.”
Sprenger goes on to muse about how the airport has a significant impact on the local economy. Hotels and restaurants have been built around the airport and the symbiotic relationship benefits each. There are also several aviation-oriented businesses on the field that are involved in drone technology including aerial firefighting.
“We are also home base for a fleet of super scoopers for aerial fire-fighting,” he says, “Bridger Aerospace is a world leader in aerial fire-fighting and their fleet while their home is here, they are deployed throughout the world.”
The “Super Scooper” is the De Havilland | CL-415EAF, a purpose-built water bomber that can fly over a lake or river, close enough to scoop up the water and refill its tank. BZN also hosts search and rescue as well as medevac operations. “We also have all the significant rental car companies,” Sprenger describes.
“As well as Uber, Lyft, Turo, various taxi services, and Karst Stage and other shuttles to the resort areas in and around Big Sky Ski Resort. There are also shuttle buses to West Yellowstone and the Gardiner entrance for those that want to enjoy the National Park.”
“The major focus for the coming year is the continued upgrading of our infrastructure. These projects are needed to support the significant growth that we’ve had in the last few years. This is the second fastest growing airport in the nation – a lot of people are discovering what this region has to offer, and we have to build the infrastructure to welcome them.”
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AT A GLANCE
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
WHAT: A Commercial, Corporate, and General Aviation Airport
WHERE: Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce – www.bozemanchamber.com
Bozeman Convention and Visitors Bureau – www.visitbozeman.com
Bozeman, Montana, surrounded by six stunning mountain ranges, four significant rivers, two entrances to Yellowstone National Park, and two major ski areas, is a beacon for those who love the outdoors. With recent growth bringing additional restaurants, air service, and live entertainment, this traditionally quiet mountain town now rivals urban areas for cultural entertainment.
For the sixth year in a row, Bozeman has ranked number one for having the strongest local micropolitan economy in the nation. (Polycom Corporation, 2023 Economic Strength Ratings.) With Yellowstone National Park just a stone’s throw away, along with world-class skiing and trout fishing, visitors flock to the area year-round, making tourism one of the largest industries in the region. Add a growing technology sector, a booming downtown, Montana’s biggest college, Montana State University, and you can understand why this mountain town is all the rage.
Bozeman used to have the perceptions of being difficult to access, but throughout the years, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), along with Visit Bozeman and other local tourism stakeholders, partnered to expand air service to the Gallatin Valley. The success has been phenomenal. BZN now has non-stop service to twenty-two destinations throughout the United States, (9 which operate seasonally.) To lend perspective to the growth, in 1990, enplanements at the airport surpassed 125,000 passengers for the first time. In 2023, the airport projects their enplanements to be 1,188,050, up 4.7% over 2022.
As a community, Bozeman has a strong non-profit sector, a rich arts community, and is quickly becoming a music hub with performances ranging from regional favorites to national headliners in venues such as the ELM, Rialto, Ellen Theatre, and Montana State University. The thriving downtown is a mix of great restaurants, unique shopping, and live entertainment, including Montana’s only comedy club, Last Best Comedy.
Lodging accommodations continue to grow with a multitude of options ranging from boutique hotels like RSVP, to Bozeman’s first four-start hotel, Kimpton Armory Hotel, to national brands such as Residence Inn by Marriot, with more options on the horizon over the next five years. EVEN Hotel, located at the upcoming Airport Plaza, is scheduled to be complete in 2024.
But what lies at the heart of Bozeman is the incredible natural beauty that sits in our backyard. The ability to explore the mountains and rivers, watch the wildlife, the wildflowers, and the turn of the seasons. It is the farmers, the entrepreneurs, the mountaineers, and the people who work together to proudly call this place home.
The story of SharBert Enterprises began over dinner. On a visit to downtown Bozeman, Sharon Hopeman came home empty-handed after shopping for Montana souvenirs for her family back in Virginia. Over dinner in the Bozeman Hotel, she convinced her husband Bert, an experienced alpinist and aspiring shop-owner, to open not the climbing shop he had in mind, but a store with a wide range of Montana gifts. And so in 1993, the couple launched Montana Gift Corral in downtown Bozeman to unexpected success, selling out of key stock on the opening weekend.
Since then, Montana Gift Corral has continued a tradition of serving Montana-loving travelers and locals alike as we have expanded into the food and beverage industry with two full-service restaurants in the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport: Copper Horse Restaurant and Ross Peak Grill. From a cozy and comfortable sit-down experience to fresh, delicious grab-and-go offerings for travelers catching flights, the joy we receive from serving others has never dissipated.
Everything that we do is meant to connect people to Montana. Our stores and restaurants owe their steady success to our hardworking local employees; our treasured local artisans, state vendors, and worldwide suppliers; and of course, our loyal customers.
Jet Aviation Inc. – www.jetaviation.com
Jet Aviation established its presence in Bozeman in 2020; the closest full-service FBO to the Yellowstone area. With an executive terminal that exudes elegance, warmth, and personalization, we are excited to provide a welcoming experience that feels like home every time you enter. Our FBO caters for every requirement—from comfortable lounges and conference rooms to flight planning, hangarage, de-icing, and line service, our service team is able to take care of any need you have.
In service of growing customer demand, we are constructing a new 40,000 square foot hangar next to the FBO in Bozeman, scheduled for completion in the third quarter of 2023. This new hangar will be able to accommodate any large cabin jet and will be a significant next step in continuing to provide a seamless experience for our customers in Bozeman, and across the world.
Behind each of these experiences are our people. With consistently high customer service scores and a team that is regularly recognized for their outstanding service, our Jet Aviation Bozeman location acts as a key location in our US FBO network. We’re proud to serve our customers and the city of Bozeman and look forward to continuing to be your partner of choice as you travel to Bozeman, and beyond.