Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) in Montana is among the busiest and fastest-growing small-hub airports in the Northwest, hosting a variety of aircraft operations, including scheduled airlines, Part 91 and Part 135 operators, helicopters, glider towing, air ambulance, cargo, military training, flight schools and light general aviation.
To their credit, airport management and the Gallatin Airport Authority understand the value that all airport users bring to southwest Montana and have worked to enhance efficiency and safety for all of them. “Bozeman is a great example of an airport understanding the value of all of its users and being proactive in supporting them with technologies and infrastructure that contribute to safe and efficient operations,” said Kristi Ivey, NBAA’s Northwest regional representative.
Airport director Brian Sprenger said business aircraft operations are up significantly at BZN, with February 2018 (the latest month for which statistics are available) up 63 percent over the previous record. “Overall, the airport is growing at an annual rate of 8 to 10 percent,” he said.
BZN officials have moved forward on ATC upgrades, rather than wait for the often-slow-moving process of obtaining government funding. “Twenty years ago, we felt we needed a tower and couldn’t wait for the FAA,” said Sprenger.
The airport paid to build the tower and still maintains it; although the tower is now part of the FAA’s contract tower program, BZN has also for years paid for additional controllers to enable the tower to stay open longer, and recently funded a new controller position from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A decade ago, BZN became the first small-hub U.S. airport to pay for its own airport radar, at a cost of $1.5 million. Overall, the airport has spent more than $7 million – all of it from airport-generated revenue – to upgrade its ATC coverage and facilities.
Sprenger and BZN officials also were successful in securing Airport Improvement Program monies to help fund construction of a new parallel runway, which opened ahead of schedule in October 2017. Runway 11/29 is used almost exclusively by flight schools and smaller general aircraft and helps separate the diverse mix of aviation operations.
“Planning for the future, the airport board saw the need to have it [Runway 11/29] in place prior to the rehabilitation of the main runway,” said Janine Schwahn, chief instructor at Summit Aviation, a flight school and charter operator based at the field.
Ben Walton, who founded Summit 20 years ago when he began flight instructing in a borrowed Cessna 150, said that BZN “is a great place to be. They really want to see businesses on the field succeed, and they understand the pilot shortage and the needs of general aviation.”