Billings Gazette American Airlines enters Montana market, offers seasonal service to Bozeman

American Airlines will enter the Montana market this spring with non-stop daily, seasonal flights connecting Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport with Dallas-Fort Worth.

Summer service begins June 2, ending in October. Winter service begins Dec. 15 and ends in April.

Airport manager Brian Sprenger said Thursday’s announcement is the culmination of two decades worth of effort by officials from Gallatin County.

“Obviously, it puts us on the map, particularly for the Dallas market,” Sprenger said. The direct flights open up new opportunities for leisure travelers interested in visiting southwest Montana, he said.

Gallatin County organizations have pledged $1.3 million in revenue guarantees to reduce the airline’s financial risk in entering the Montana market. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is Montana’s busiest, by virtue of its proximity to Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky and other tourist attractions. Last year, the airport handled more than 1 million passengers.

Sprenger said Big Sky Resort, the Yellowstone Club, Spanish Peaks and Moonlight Basin, the Bozeman Chamber, Bozeman TBID and Yellowstone Country Montana contributed to the revenue guarantee.

The single daily flight offered by American could eventually expand over time if market conditions justify it, Sprenger said.  “In the long run, it gives American an opportunity to have expanded in Montana and to understand the market better. As they gain experience, it’s more likely that they’ll expand to other cities.”

Another carrier, Horizon Airlines eventually expanded its service after entering the Montana market a few years ago, Sprenger said.

Billings officials traveled to Dallas-Fort Worth late last year hoping to promote American’s interest in serving the Billings market. Meetings have also taken place with officials from Delta Airlines and United Airlines about potentially expanding air service to Billings.

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“The airlines each know what Billings is looking for and we know what the airlines need to expand in our market,” said John Brewer, president and chief executive of the Billings Chamber of Commerce. “For example, American Airlines knows that Billings seeks to secure daily direct service to Dallas-Fort Worth and that our data and research indicate that service would be successful here.

“We hope to see the flight in Bozeman go well, as that will ultimately speak to the success of the Montana market for American and feed our request for daily direct service in Billings,” Brewer said.

Steve Arveschoug, executive director of Big Sky Economic Development, said he was somewhat disappointed that American plans only seasonal service. Billings will continue to make the case for adding new flights, he said.

Brewer said Billings has a lot of factors that make it a strong candidate for air service expansion, including a strong economy and a diverse business community.

“This is exciting news for the Bozeman community and the thousands of Montanans who rely on Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport for reliable air travel,” said Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont. “This new partnership with American Airlines won’t just increase options for Montanans, but will also make it easier for Montanans to access global destinations at lower cost. It will further open Bozeman’s door to economic opportunities and job creation, unlocking markets for Montana small businesses.”

“We’re proud to offer this new service to Bozeman, marking American’s return to Montana,” said Chuck Schubert, American’s vice president of network planning. “Customers from around the world will now have access to Bozeman from our largest hub.”

The new flight is scheduled to depart Dallas Fort Worth Airport at 10:15 a.m., arriving in Bozeman at 12:13 p.m., with the return flight leaving Bozeman at 1:02 p.m., arriving in Dallas at 5 p.m.

American’s service will be operated by its American Eagle regional partners, using Bombardier CRJ-900 aircraft.