BELGRADE - Montana's busiest airport is getting even busier this week, with the addition of a new airline and a new direct route. On Thursday, the first JetBlue Airlines flight in the state touched down at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, bringing passengers from Long Beach, California to the Gallatin Valley.
It's an indication of Montana's growing travel destination image, and the airport's increasingly large role in fulfilling that image. The airport has seen record growth in the last decade, even breaking its own passenger traffic record for the eighth consecutive year last December.
And it doesn't look like that level of traffic will stop anytime soon. A celebration after Thursday's inaugural flight from Long Beach through JetBlue touched on the airport's continued growth, with Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney telling the crowd he hoped to be back at the airport in a few months for another celebration. The airport, located in Belgrade, now accounts for 30 percent of all commercial airline traffic in and out of Montana.
Bozeman Yellowstone Director Brian Sprenger says JetBlue's arrival in Montana has been in the works for years.
"All of us in the area, you know, realize the great things that are happening in the valley and also up in the mountains," Sprenger said. "And we were able to impart with [JetBlue] everything that's going on here. And they wanted our community to be part of their system."
Most of budget airline JetBlue's 102 destinations are located along the east coast, not far from its New York City headquarters. Erik Hildebrandt, JetBlue's Regional Manager for Airports West, indicated that Bozeman could be a good way to connect more of the airline's western destinations to one another.
"Bozeman has a lot to offer," said Hildebrandt, explaining what drew the airline to the Gallatin region. "Whether it be Big Sky for skiing and our seasonal service in the winter, Yellowstone in the summertime, as well as a lot of the entrepreneur-tech industries here, and the university; there's no better demographic that actually matches for our onboard product to connect people to the areas in which we serve."
The new route from Long Beach to Bozeman is also expected to relieve some congestion from Los Angeles' bustling LAX Airport and serve as an alternative to Los Angeles and San Diego for travelers to the Golden State.
The flight between Long Beach and Bozeman is Bozeman Yellowstone's 16th direct flight, running twice weekly during the winter and summer seasons.