Airport expansion seeks to deal with possible summer travel boom | Local News
By late Thursday, Idaho Falls Regional Airport celebrated the start of three new summer flights in less than a week.
The first flight between Idaho Falls and Dallas / Fort Worth departed around 1:50 p.m. Thursday. The first flight from Idaho Falls to Portland arrived at the airport the previous Friday morning, while the first summer flight to Phoenix left late Thursday afternoon.
All new flights are part of what are shaping up to be busy months for the regional airport. By the end of August, the airport will complete the final stages of a $ 12 million renovation and expansion that will double the number of gates. Airport manager Rick Cloutier has estimated Idaho Falls could see half a million travelers a year pass through the airport by the end of 2022.
“We had exceeded our capacity even before the new flights arrived,” said Cloutier. “All of this growth helps us operate more efficiently, enables more passengers and flights, and meets the growing needs of the region. “
The initial flight to Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport took off with 63 passengers on board. Before taking off, the plane passed through two arcs of water from Idaho Falls Fire Department trucks – the airport’s traditional celebration of a new route.
The Yadon family booked the flight to attend a relative’s graduation ceremony in Louisiana without realizing that it would be the start of a new itinerary.
“We have a free bottle of water and these luggage tags to mark our suitcases. It’s a good start to a flight,” said Steve Yadon.
Flights from Dallas and Phoenix are operated by American Airlines and will be expanded to twice daily flights later this summer. Allegiant Airlines operates the flight to Portland, while Alaska Airlines will operate the fourth new route of the summer when it begins serving Seattle on June 16.
The Transportation Security Administration has predicted that this may be the busiest summer on record for Idaho Falls. Travel projections and seat purchases indicate that the airport could accommodate 20% more passengers than in the summer of 2019, which set the previous record for passenger volume.
Andrew Coose, TSA’s federal director of security for Idaho’s six major airports, said Idaho Falls was uniquely positioned to increase passenger numbers over the summer with the new flights.
“There is a boom now that more and more people are leaving their homes. National parks are creating a lot of interest and demand,” Coose said.
The full summer route expansion will bring 17 daily flights through the Idaho Falls Regional Airport. Cloutier said the airport can handle up to 30 flights a day, thanks to the additional gates.
“Not only do we have the most options of all the airports in eastern Idaho, we have the lowest average fares,” Cloutier said.
Nationally, the number of air travel is rebounding from last year’s restrictions, but has not reached previous levels. TSA checkpoint data showed that between May 25 and May 31, more than 12 million passengers passed through airport security. That’s well above the 2 million passengers during the same Memorial Day period last year, but down from the nearly 17 million travelers who passed through checkpoints in 2019.
Idaho Falls budgeted $ 12 million for the airport expansion in 2019. The vast majority of that budget ended up coming from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program, which provided 11.4 million dollars that year for modernization of buildings.
The first phase of improvements ended early last year with the opening of the new TSA screening area and baggage claim. Neal Gekeler, one of the TSA officers at Idaho Falls Regional Airport, said the expanded space allowed them to see more than 300 passengers per hour during the busiest times of the year until now.
The expansion brings the airport to six gates, with three on each floor. The new terminal on the ground floor was previously where airport vehicles were parked when not in use to prepare for flights. A restaurant for up to 50 people will open on the second floor at the end of the summer.
The airport is among the decreasing number of places that require face masks. The majority of airlines still require masks for passengers on their planes, unless they are eating or have a disability exemption.
“There are people who oppose the mask requirement. We just tell them it’s for the safety and health of all of our passengers,” Gekeler said.
The next phase of airport expansion may not be so far away. Cloutier said they would spend the rest of the year building up the next 10 years Airport master plan for an additional extension. Right now, there are few safe additions to the plan, although Cloutier said they are looking to expand parking options and attract even more routes to Idaho Falls.
Brennen is the Post Register’s principal educational reporter. Contact him with topical advice at 208-542-6711.