The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport begins a story for every guest as they enter the Gallatin Valley. The terminal is uniquely Montana, composed of natural wood and stone, and is replete with work of local artisans. The airport experience provides the first and last impression that each traveler will have as they come and go and is a comforting constant to those of us fortunate enough to call Montana home.
The airport was originally built in 1928, named Seifert airport in recognition of Wayne Seifert, a local aviation pioneer. As Bozeman continued to grow, a larger, more accommodating airport was required. In 1940, the city of Bozeman took a lease on an adjoining area to the Belgrade airport and constructed a hangar in partnership with the Civilian Pilot Training program on offer at Montana State College. That same year the airport commission met with the Civil Aeronautics Administration to explore federal funding for expansion plans. After meeting with the Army Corp of Engineers and creating a proposal, the necessary filings and land purchases resulted in the approval of funding and throughout the 1940s, the airport began its first evolution. Seifert airport was renamed Gallatin Field and became a city-county airport in 1942.
As more travelers began to arrive, many making their homes here, the demand for a larger terminal grew, and in 1972 an FAA planning grant resulted in the development of the first Master Plan for the airport. The Montana Legislature authorized the establishment of the Airport Authorities of Montana that same year and Gallatin Field became an Airport Authority. Revenue bonds were sold in 1976 and the completion of the Gallatin Field terminal resulted in a regional award for environmental design from the FAA in 1978. The FAA director stated, “The building is highly functional and an outstanding example of the use of design, art, and architecture to enhance the compatibility of airport structures with their surrounding environment." Renamed Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in 2011 to signify its relationship to our National Park, the facility is currently the state’s busiest airport with over 1.5 million annual travelers enjoying its services.
The success of Bozeman’s airport did not happen by accident. Under the stewardship of a consistent board of directors, the leadership of the airport directors, and the partnership of local builders and their Bozeman area suppliers, our airport continues to showcase what can be achieved in growing at a sustainable rate while keeping true to Montana roots in design and local partnerships.
Expansions happen under the thoughtful guidance of Airport Director Brian Sprenger and a five-member board of directors. The most recent terminal development period started in 2019 with a four-gate concourse expansion that was completed in November of 2020 and brought the total number of gates to 12. Brian and the board of directors partnered with Martel Construction and Comma-Q Architecture to complete the addition. Anyone walking through the newly updated terminal can hardly tell where the old terminal ends and the new terminal begins. The old terminal’s Canadian geese bronzes still fly down the staircase from the second level with a new bronze bear sculpture by Dennis Harrington welcoming travelers to baggage claim. More original work from Montana artists lines the walkways and a Museum of the Rockies display invites travelers to experience another local treasure during their visit. Natural stone and timber are prevalent throughout the terminal. Windows open to a panoramic view of the Bridger Mountain range as travelers gaze across the Gallatin Valley. In the age of sterile airport terminal construction located in sprawling urban landscapes, our airport stands out as one of a kind in its expansive rural environment and complimentary architecture to the surrounding landscape.
Local builder Martel Construction began working with the airport on expansion projects in 1977 and has been involved with multiple projects ever since, completing a large expansion in 1994 and another in 2011, culminating in the 70,000 sq. foot terminal, restaurant, and gate expansion in 2020 under the direction of Travis Kabalin. They will complete the upcoming outbound baggage enhancement, slated for completion in 2022. Kabalin attributes the success of their airport partnership to the intelligence of the individuals he works with, their full integration with the local community, and how everyone involved understands the importance of the airport to the community both in economic growth for the area and as one of the area’s largest employers. He underscores how important the airport projects are to their local suppliers and subcontractors who are vested in the success of the project. Martel Construction has worked on additional Montana airport projects in larger communities such as Missoula. They possess a keen understanding of how to be successful in the technicalities, coordination, and safety of airport construction in a live operating environment. Everyone knows what the other needs and supports each other in a dynamic team environment of shared success.
Another key partner in the continued development of the airport is Hennebery Eddy - Comma-Q Architecture. Elizabeth Growney leads the design team on airport projects and is currently involved in the airport baggage expansion. For more than 25 years, HeddComma-Q has worked on projects rooted in the Bozeman community. They’ve received over 20 accolades, ranging from historic preservation to Bozeman beautification awards. Their involvement in large projects from conception to construction and successful completion gives the team a lot of satisfaction and they take great pride in their diverse ensemble. Their partnership in preserving the character of the original terminal design, while adding key features to the new terminal such as the large panoramic windows and their use of local construction materials, has resulted in an organic, welcoming experience that is seamless in function and compliments the local feel of the airport.
Commercial air traffic is not the only growth area of the airport. Bozeman enjoys a robust business jet clientele and private aircraft operator population. Private jet landings have grown to the rate of approximately 7,500 per year. The non-jet traffic is strong as well with nearly 300 private aircraft based out of the airport and over 200 hangars on the property. Several different flight schools are based at BZN; Summit Aviation and Ridgeline being the busiest. Bridger Aerospace offers aerial wildfire management, relief, and suppression as the only full-spectrum aerial firefighting service provider in the United States. Several helicopter operators are based at the airport, including Rocky Mountain Rotors and Central Copters. The airport also has two major air medical services. Although the first thing the public may see is the terminal growth, additional operations at the airport grow on pace with commercial traffic.
The ongoing iconic design theme that began in the 1970s is integral to current and future expansion plans. Local artists will further showcase their craft, rock will be quarried from Gallatin canyon, and the defining wood beams will frame the beauty that lies within the terminal. As the Bozeman area continues to grow, the airport will continue to be an intrinsic part of how we welcome travelers and new residents to the area. It contains the spirit of Montana. Our partnerships. Our shared success. And the beauty of what we share in this outdoor paradise.