Growth prompts Missoula airport to add third security point sooner than planned

Larger aircraft and more passengers have prompted Missoula International Airport to explore adding a third security lane sooner rather than later, officials said this week. (Missoula Current file photo)

Seven months may be too long to wait.

Larger aircraft and passenger growth have prompted Missoula International Airport to explore adding a third security lane sooner rather than later, officials said this week.

Director Cris Jensen said the airport had planned to install a third checkpoint in September as it gears up to begin redeveloping the passenger terminal. But a projected growth in passengers won’t enable the airport to wait that long.

“As we’ve continued to grow over the last couple years, we’ve seen wait times at the checkpoint grow longer and longer during peak hours,” Jensen said. “We initially planned to include that third lane in the main lobby when we relocate the checkpoint, some time in September. But given the projected level of activity over the summer, we’re probably not in a position to wait until then.”

The airport logged more than 770,000 passengers last year, a new record. This year, Missoula will also see new nonstop service to Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago on American Airlines.

Brian Ellestad, the airport’s deputy director, said several airlines are also flying larger aircraft into Missoula to accommodate the growth in passengers. The total number of available seats this June is expected to increase more than 25 percent.

“United (Airlines) recently loaded a mainline San Francisco nonstop on Sunday morning,” Ellestad said. “Between 5:40 and 6:40 in the morning, we’ll have 528 possible seats to be filled, which puts the check line on a 37-minute wait.”

To alleviate the growing wait at security, Jensen said the airport has been working with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to install a third lane. That approval came this week, though Jensen said it’s not a done deal.

“We’re working with our engineers to make sure it will fit, spatially, and we’ve had a little help from our congressional folks pushing the TSA to make that decision,” Jensen said. “We still have some hoops to jump through, to make sure it will fit and make sure we can get power to it, but things are moving in the right direction.”