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Helena Regional Airport

A pair of baggage handlers scan travelers’ bags as passengers board a flight to Salt Lake City recently at the Helena Regional Airport.

The whine of aircraft engines signals the start of each day at Helena Regional Airport, and the Airport Authority is looking ahead to the day when expansion is needed to accommodate more flights and more passengers.

Rohn Price and Syd Tetterton were as impressed by Helena’s scenery as any first-time visitors, and they were viewing it as an asset to include in their design for how the airport would look and function in 2030.

While they are planning for six aircraft gates, they said they also want a design that will be able to accommodate additional aircraft.

The airport currently handles four morning flights, though one of those, an Alaska Airlines flight, is set to discontinue later this month.

This look into the future, said airport director Jeff Wadekamper, is part of the ongoing work on a master plan.

“It will kind of give us a road map. ... We’ll know we need to start initiating pieces of this plan,” he said.

When that’s completed this fall, he continued, the airport will have near-term plans as well as intermediate solutions. Long-term projects would be initiating more of the consultant’s plan, he added.

Increases in the number of passengers or simultaneous flights in and out of the airport would trigger different facility improvements, Wadekamper explained.

Both Price and Tetterton are with Price Studios of Richmond, Virginia, and spent part of a week in Helena to assess the airport’s strengths and weaknesses.

They liked much of what they saw, they told members of the Airport Authority as they unveiled five options to address what they consider to be issues facing the airport.

Among these was not having a separate place for spraying aircraft in the winter with a solution that removes ice, limitations on the ability to service arriving flights before departures and how ticketing is currently handled.

There’s no food available for those on the terminal’s second floor awaiting flights, and the passenger screening area can be crowded at times, the consultants noted.

None of the options was perfect, the consultants told the Airport Authority. The process was just beginning and cost estimates weren’t yet available.

But what caught the attention of Airport Authority members and Wadekamper were two design options that seemed to offer greater possibilities for the future.

“It just doesn’t make sense to think small,” Wadekamper said.

After three of the five options were discarded, the consultants said they would return in early September with more detailed plans for the two still under consideration. Those would be further modified based on comments.

“Flexibility is a key thing to try and maintain,” Tetterton said of future changes in aircraft fleets and passenger screening requirements.

The ability to expand the terminal beyond the 15-year horizon in the airport’s master plan is important to Wadekamper and Airport Authority members.

One of the options favored by Wadekamper moved the passenger security screening out of the lobby and had gates on both the ground level as well as on a second floor.

“There will always be a need, I think, for us to have a ground boarding option,” he said.

Expanding the second story area beyond the ground floor footprint provided a covered area for storage of airport operations equipment, he noted of this feature that was contained in both of the favored options.

A second option that was favored expanded this covered area.

Offering food service on the terminal’s second floor, which is currently lacking, is another of the issues facing the consultants in their designs.

One of the two options that will receive further analysis had escalators serving the second floor where an open area allowed passengers to be able to see all of the gates there at once.

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Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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