HELENA – Helena Regional Airport leaders are making changes to their long-term parking system.
Several weeks ago, the airport expanded and paved its gravel overflow parking lot. That adds 162 long-term parking spaces, for a total of more than 800. Over the next few weeks, they will also add improved lighting and new sectional signage, so passengers will have a better idea of where they parked.
Airport director Jeff Wadekamper said there has been a steady growth in the number of travelers over the last four years, and it was time to add additional parking capacity.
“The last several Christmas and New Year’s holiday seasons, we have maximized our regular lot, we’ve maximized the overflow lot,” he said. “We had additional cars parking in short-term just because there was no place to park them.”
Wadekamper said the airport saw 13 percent more passengers through October than it had during the same period in 2017. He said that’s largely because Delta Air Lines and United Airlines increased their service offerings by more than 24,000 seats. Both airlines used larger aircraft on their Helena routes, and United added an additional daily flight to Denver.
The parking upgrades will cost a total of about $200,000, and they will be funded through an increase in long-term parking fees. Starting Dec. 3, the fee will go from $3 a day to $4 a day.
Wadekamper said it would be the first increase in parking rates for about 15 years. He said the fee would still be substantially lower than at many other Montana airports.
“We want to keep it affordable; we know that’s very important to folks,” he said. “That additional dollar a day we feel is a good balance, to help pay for the added amenities and improvement in capacity, but yet keep it affordable to the traveler.”
Wadekamper said leaders have already been considering what options they have if passenger numbers keep growing and they eventually need more parking.