Flathead Municipal Airport Authority (FMAA)
Flathead Municipal Airport Authority (FMAA) is the owner and operator of Glacier Park International Airport. FMAA’s Board of Directors is composed of seven members, each appointed by the Flathead County Commissioners. The Airport Authority functions as an independent public agency and has numerous responsibilities including: immediate and long-range maintenance of the airport premises, management of finances and budgeting along with hiring and long-term planning. In addition, FMAA governs all routine aspects of management of the airport facilities, including the terminal building, grounds, and airfield. Aircraft operations, concessions, air traffic control and security checkpoint operations are all conducted by other organizations.
Under direction of the Board, the airport functions much like a small city. The Airport Authority employs an airport director along with a deputy and administrative staff, fire and police departments, and an experienced, well-trained maintenance wing. Serving together, each of the departments see to critical, specific operations. The fire department provides fire suppression and emergency medical services and is simultaneously responsible for the regular, rigorous inspection of the airfield. Airport police provide general security of airport grounds (excluding duties reserved to TSA and Customs), while the Maintenance staff is responsible for upkeep of the airport’s buildings, grounds, and vehicles. Many crucial tasks fall to them, including runway maintenance, snow removal and other tasks essential to airport safety. Currently, FMAA employs a staff of 25 dedicated airport professionals. For those pursuing a career in the airport management profession, there is a 6-month Airport Operations internship is available, as well.
The Airport Authority also contracts for services critical to airport auxiliary operations (car rentals, parking, amenities, ground transportation, etc.). Finally, in perhaps its most important non-safety role, the Authority oversees upgrades and expansions to the airport. Through review and implementation of the Airport Master Plan, it is their duty to be prepared for the airport’s future.
Serving through its Board and high-quality, professional staff, it is the continuing goal of FMAA to provide a proficient and welcoming airport environment – safely, efficiently, professionally, continuously.
HISTORY OF GPIA
Like many Montana airports, GPIA had its beginnings on a long, level reach of farm ground. Clearing for a crude runway began circa 1942 on land north and east of Kalispell. Early residents referred to the landing strip as “The LaSalle Airport,” probably due to its location along LaSalle Road which connected Kalispell to the north valley. Over the next several years a terminal was erected, and in 1948 the facility was completed and designated as Flathead County Airport (FCA) by the Federal Aviation Administration. The first commercial carrier, Northwest Airlines, began service in 1950.
Though traffic was sparse in the beginning, the fledgling facility slowly gathered speed. FCA became an international airport in 1970 with the addition of U.S. Customs to its campus; going forward, it was known as it is now, Glacier Park International Airport (GPIA). With its international status, optimal location and the eventual rerouting of U.S. Highway 2 along its doorstep, the airport was poised for growth.
GPIA’s air passenger numbers climbed exponentially during the 1970s and ’80s. A contingent of airlines, including Frontier, Hughes Airwest, Western Airlines and West Coast Airlines, made entrances and exits. In 1978, the Airline Deregulation Act changed the face of commercial aviation, impacting GPIA, as well. Major carriers parried for control with mergers and takeovers, and the strong survived. Today GPIA is served by five of them: Alaska, American, Delta, United and Allegiant.
With the burgeoning tide of air traffic, GPIA soon outgrew the 1948 terminal building. A new, more modern terminal was constructed in 1981, and significant additions were made to that structure in 1997. An additional $8 million upgrade was completed in recent years, with plans presently underway for another significant expansion.
For the seventh consecutive year, GPIA passenger numbers have broken records. In 2018, GPIA broke it’s latest record with 307,000 departing passengers.
Beyond serving those record numbers of passengers, GPIA is the Flathead Valley’s hub of aeronautical activity. The facility serves private aircraft, medical and air ambulance providers, search and rescue operators and cargo carriers like Fed Ex and UPS, to name a few. During the summers, it serves as a strategic base for firefighting crews. There have been a few moments in the spotlight, too: GPIA has welcomed a U. S. President, and served as host for the Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds. All in all, it seems the little landing strip on LaSalle has come some distance in its seventy-some years.
Glacier Park International Airport, through its governing body, maintains a continual liaison with county and zoning officials to assure that land use near the airport is compatible with community needs. It is the goal of GPIA to be a thoughtful, proactive neighbor, taking into account the effect of air traffic, ground traffic, noise and safety as it might impact bordering properties.