Helena airport receives $3M in federal funding

The Helena Regional Airport recently received more than $3 million in federal funds, which local officials plan to put toward some needed maintenance projects.

Helena was one of 13 Montana airports to receive more than $8 million total in funding from the Airport Improvement Program under the Department of Transportation. U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester announced the funding last week. 

About $1.3 million of Helena’s allocation was an expected entitlement, but the additional $1.7 million came through a competitive application process, said airport Director Jeff Wadekamper.

“It was a request we’d had out there for quite a while, and with a request you never know if you’re getting it, so we’re very happy about that,” Wadekamper said. “We’re very fortunate that we got those additional discretionary funds and Sen. Tester, Sen. Daines and Congressman Gianforte, we’re very appreciative to them that we’ll be able to get a number of projects done.”

The airport has four major projects it intends to tackle with the funding.

The first project will replace pavement on the south side of the airport where some of the corporate air services operate. The asphalt there dates back to 1983 and is in need of replacement.

The second is a new taxi lane on the southeast end of the airport to offer space for more hangars.

The third is an upgrade to the airport’s emergency communication station, which will help communication between both fire stations and the FAA tower. The current system dates to 1974 and is failing, Wadekamper said.

The final project is a 2021 repaving of the 9,000-foot primary runway. Due to the precision mandated in an airport runway, local officials are beginning the planning process now, he said. Most airport runways have a 20-year life and it was last repaved in 2000.

Wadekamper does not believe the first three projects will affect service. When it comes to the runway project, options include requesting airlines use bigger planes to allow morning and evening transport of the same number of passenger but in a more condensed time, allowing a bigger window for construction.

The funding comes with a local match requirement of 12%, which the Helena airport finances through travel fees.

Both Daines and Tester touted the funding announcement.

“Strengthening the infrastructure that supports air travel in Montana is vital to our local economy,” Daines said in a statement. “These grants will lead to greater access for Montana’s visitors and more good paying jobs for Montana’s thriving tourism industry.”

Tester pointed out in his statement, “When you live in a place called Big Sky Country, air travel is a necessity. That’s why it’s critical that we invest in our airports, because families, tourists, and businesses across our great state rely on Montana’s air travel infrastructure to get where they’re going.”