Airports of Montana: Glacier Park International Airport

Airports of Montana: Glacier Park International Airport
Sunnya343, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The story of Montana’s Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) starts not with grand terminals, but with a simple runway carved out of farmland.  

Located near Glacier National Park, the airport is in Flathead County, Montana, six miles northeast of Kalispell.  

Here, we explore FCA’s transformation from a humble airstrip to a vital international hub. 

1942-1950: A Landing Strip Takes Root

The year is 1942. World War II rages on, and the need for airfields across the United States intensifies.

In Montana, a vision takes flight.

A long, flat stretch of farmland north of Kalispell is chosen, and construction begins on a rudimentary runway.  

Locals affectionately call it “The LaSalle Airport” due to its proximity to LaSalle Road.

Over the next few years, a terminal building takes shape, and in 1948, the official christening occurs: Flathead County Airport (FCA) is born. 

Passenger traffic, however, remains sparse in these early years.

Air travel is still a novelty for many, and Montana’s remote location doesn’t exactly scream tourist destination.

Yet, the seeds for future growth are firmly planted. 

1950-1980: Commercial Airlines and International Status

The year 1950 marks a turning point for FCA.

Northwest Airlines, a major carrier at the time, touches down, initiating the era of commercial air travel in the Flathead Valley.  

However, passenger numbers continue to be modest.

The vast wilderness of Montana, while breathtaking, isn’t yet a mainstream tourist attraction. 

A key shift arrives in 1970.

U.S. Customs sets up shop at FCA, granting it the coveted status of an international airport.  

This paves the way for a name change, one that better reflects the airport’s newfound capabilities: Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) takes flight. 

Airports of Montana: Glacier Park International Airport
Sunnya343, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

With international designation and an ideal location near Glacier National Park, GPIA is poised for takeoff.

The 1970s and 80s witness a surge in passenger traffic.  

Airlines like Hughes Airwest, Western Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Frontier Airlines begin offering jet service, connecting Kalispell to major hubs across the country.  

This newfound accessibility opens the door for tourism to flourish in Montana. 

1978-Present: Deregulation and Modernization 

The year 1978 marks another significant milestone in the history of the airport.

The Airline Deregulation Act shakes up the commercial aviation landscape. It ushers in an era of increased competition and lower fares.

This influx of new airlines and routes further fuels FCA’s growth. 

Throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Montana airport undergoes modernization efforts.

The terminal is expanded to accommodate the growing number of passengers.  

Today, it boasts a 75,000-square-foot terminal with modern amenities, catering to a diverse range of airlines, including Alaska Airlines, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Sun Country, and United.  

These airlines offer direct flights to over 18 major cities, making Glacier National Park and the surrounding region easily accessible to travelers from all over the world. 

Looking Ahead: A Gateway to Adventure

Glacier Park International Airport has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a dirt runway.

Today, it serves as a vital gateway for visitors seeking adventure in Montana’s breathtaking wilderness.  

The airport’s continued growth reflects the increasing popularity of Glacier National Park and the surrounding Flathead Valley as a premier tourist destination.  

As FCA looks towards the future, it remains committed to providing a seamless and enjoyable travel experience for all who seek to explore the wonders of Montana. 

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read
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