Additional direct flights possible for Glacier International Airport


KALISPELL, Mont. - Travelers know how tough it can be to get in to and out of the Flathead. One couple from California explained how much easier it would be to visit if there were more direct flights.

"We could fly into Denver directly and not go on to Kalispell, or we could go to Salt Lake for ski vacations. We probably would be more likely to come here if there were easier flights in," said Bart and Beth McClelland.

Trouble is, there just aren't more direct flights. Right now, Glacier International Airport only has four direct flights available for travelers.

That's where a new group comes in -- Airline Enhancement Regional Organization, or AERO, is raising money with a simple goal -- more direct flights next winter. The short term goal is $250,000 by this spring. Backers figure that much gives them some leverage to negotiate with airlines.

"A carrier, to incent them to try a new direct route during the winter months, you have to provide a financial guarantee. And that's AERO's purpose is to raise the money that would be the financial backing to entice carriers to try a new route," said Paul Johannsen, AERO Chairman.

Johannsen thinks the numbers prove his point.According to Montana Department of Transportation, there were 397,827 passengers alone in 2013 at Glacier Airport. From 2010 to 2013 there has been a 17.4-percent increase in passenger travel.

"You'd be able to fly direct, say, to Chicago in the winter and then from Chicago you can get anywhere to the East Coast real easily. But now, you would probably need to fly to Denver and then Chicago in order to get all those choices for the East Coast," said Johannsen.

Right now AERO has about $150,000 raised from businesses and private donors. They want the next $100,000 by May, so flyers like Sheila Bell can leave and come home without making too many connections.

"For example, when I fly to see my daughter in Vermont, I'm going to have to go to three different places before I get to Burlington. So that would be an ideal situation, where I'd rather have more direct flights," said Bell.

Some major hubs they are looking at adding direct flights to include Phoenix, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They have already directly spoken with Chicago and have started to make some negotiations.