GREAT FALLS — United Airlines is adding more direct flights, some on larger planes, from Great Falls International Airport to Denver International Airport.
Starting in January, United is introducing a 76-seat jet with a first-class cabin into the rotation for direct flights from Great Falls to Denver. The plane is an upgrade from the current 50-seat jet being used for both daily flights.
In February, the airline will add a third daily direct flight. By April, United plans to fly two 76-seat jets and one 50-seat jet daily to Denver from Great Falls.
Great Falls International Airport director John Faulkner said the additional flights and larger planes is needed growth for the airport.
“We need to grow out of that regional jet sized aircraft and even past that 76 seater eventually. We need to move into mainline aircraft. The pilot community is much more stable in that size of airplane and there are more of those airplanes being purchased. Really no one is purchasing regional size jets any longer. The 50 seat jet hasn’t been bought in 30 years. Even the 76 seat jets are rarely purchased. Maybe a couple a year. So we really need to grow the air service into the size of aircraft that are being purchased,” explained Faulkner.
Growth is expected to continue. According to Faulkner, United Airlines is adding more capacity for the summer with a potential fourth direct flight to Denver per day or incorporating a larger mainline aircraft into the rotation. Due to difficulties in determining demand, the schedule likely won’t be determined until March or later.
“Obviously if we have about 500 people demand per day, that’s only a few flights on a larger plane. It’s important traffic actually grows so we can get into that larger plane,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner believes the additional flights and larger aircrafts are part of a competitive move by United, during a time when Delta is scaled back.
Delta temporarily halted its direct flight from Great Falls to Minneapolis in the fall of 2021. A Delta spokesperson told us the cut is seasonal and the airline plans to reinstate the direct flights sometime in 2022.