1. FLY OUT OF HELENA IF POSSIBLE – By supporting our existing three airlines (Alaska, Delta, and United) who have served Helena for many years, strong load factors certainly help to show demand for additional flights from current and new carriers. While the Airport Authority has no direct control over setting ticket prices, we have one of the lowest cost airports in the nation based on what the airlines pay to use the airport, so we are doing everything within our control to attract new service and ensure the airlines serving Helena remain in place. REMEMBER – if the current flights in Helena do not get used, we risk losing what we have too. It’s a “double-edged sword” as we do everything that we can within our local control to retain existing service while working to secure added, new service in an environment where resources (aircraft, labor, and various supply chain challenges) are limited, all the while being cognizant of the economic factors affecting the airline industry. Read on to the bottom of the page to learn how the Helena Regional Airport Authority is unique in addressing these challenges with the help of our community partners.

2. DONATE CASH TO THE INCENTIVE POOL – Air service recruitment is very competitive, so we need financial incentives. However, it is illegal for airports to use airport revenues for incentives (however we can and do provide fee waivers for new service) so the money for incentives must come from public / private sources. If you wish to make a cash or in-kind donation to this ongoing effort, please contact Callie Aschim at the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce at (406)-442-4120 or at [email protected].  Everyone from individuals, businesses, organizations and government entities can donate at any time and any amount. This is an ongoing effort so budgeting for future donations is another avenue if you need time to plan for a donation.

3. GET INVOLVED / GET QUESTIONS ANSWERED – if you are interested in getting more information or to get involved to help, please contact Jeff Wadekamper, Airport Director at (406)-442-2821 or [email protected] .

View the May 23, 2024 – Hometown Helena Airport / Air Service Recruitment Update Presentation on HCTV (Airport Presentation Begins at 23:00) –




  • The Helena Airport’s use fees the airlines pay to use the airport are some of the lowest in Montana and the nation. In 2022 Helena’s cost per passenger to the airlines was $4.78, compared to the national average for non-hub airports of $10.11/passenger. (Source – FAA Form 127 – available online). This is possible as the Airport has worked hard for decades to secure non-aviation revenue sources t keep up with rising costs instead of placing the added costs on the airlines.
  •  The Helena Airport (similar to all airports) has NO CONTROL directly on the airline ticket prices. They are set by the airlines based on a wide range of variables. Adding more flights/seats generally helps lower ticket prices – THIS IS WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT FOR THE COMMUNITY (YOU) TO HELP DONATE CASH TO THE INCENTIVE POOL TO ATTRACT MORE FLIGHTS!
  • Securing new flights today is so competitive due to limited pilots and aircraft that it is essential to have an incentive program (revenue guarantees, fee waivers, marketing, help with startup costs, etc…). INCENTIVES ARE CRUCIAL FOR NEW SERVICE!
  • Airports legally cannot use airport funds for airline revenue guarantees or incentives. As a result, those funds must be raised from the community or other sources and an entity other than the airport must facilitate those funds. The Helena Area Chamber of Commerce is graciously doing this for the Helena incentive pool effort. TO DONATE CALL THE CHAMBER AT (406)-442-4120.
  • Airport however can legally provide airport use fee waivers for new service as long as it is offered to all airlines that may be interested. The Helena Regional Airport Authority adopted a fee waiver program that is offered to any airline that adds service to Helena. This program was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and is available to airlines for up to the first 2 years of the new service.
  • Why are ticket prices at other airports like Bozeman sometimes cheaper? ANSWER: Ticket prices are not controlled by the local airport. Ticket prices vary on a wide range of variables such as supply/demand, competition, size of aircraft used in a market (a 150-seat plane has the ability to spread costs over more passengers compared to a 50 or 76 seat plane). By the way – HELENA’S AIRPORT RUNWAY AND TERMINAL CAN HANDLE LARGE AIRCRAFT, so that is not a limitation. The airlines typically don’t operate those larger aircraft in smaller markets.
  • “International” Airports are named that if they have US Customs. Many airports including some in Montana having “International” in their name has no bearing on ticket prices or availability of more domestic flights. Did you know that Helena actually has US Customs Landing Rights for private and charter aircraft, while many other Montana “International” airports do not have Customs?


**ANNOUNCEMENT – Alaska Airlines has added flights between Helena and Seattle for their summer 2024 schedule – begins May 16:

The Helena Regional Airport Authority and the Helena Air Service Alliance are extremely excited to announce that Alaska Airlines will be adding more flights in between Helena Regional Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport beginning in the summer of 2024! The additional frequencies will provide an early morning outbound flight to the Seattle hub and a late-night arrival back to Helena to complement the existing mid-afternoon turn flights.


May 16 – June 12: (2x daily service on Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday).

June 13th – August 19th: (2x daily every day)


Seattle to Helena:

  • Departs Seattle at 11:40 a.m. – Arrives in Helena at 2:17 p.m.
  • Departs Seattle at 9:19 p.m. – Arrives in Helena at 11:59 p.m. (NEW)

Helena to Seattle:

  • Departs Helena at 7:00 a.m. – Arrives in Seattle at 7:47 a.m. (NEW)
  • Departs Helena at 3:01 p.m. – Arrives in Seattle at 3:45 p.m.

We are very appreciative of Alaska Airline’s continued investment and commitment to serve Montana’s capital city. Securing additional flight frequencies to the Seattle hub has been one of our top priorities, so we are excited to see these additions. We have enjoyed a long-standing working relationship with Alaska Airlines for decades and look forward to continuing to grow their service from Helena. We strongly encourage the community to use these flights so the additional service can continue year-round if it performs well. In today’s environment, the airlines try new routes often times a season at a time to evaluate if the route is viable before solidifying it permanently. So it is imperative the flights do well, or the airlines move them to another route. Securing these additional flights was a team effort and illustrates the importance of community support, collaboration, and financial incentives, as gaining new service today is very competitive due to high nationwide demand and limited airline resources.

The air travel industry continues to experience recovery and system wide changes. Here is a recap of milestones Helena has experienced over the past two years:

  • October 6, 2022 – Alaska Airlines transitions from the Q400 turbo prop aircraft to the Embraer 175 dual class, 76-seat jet between Helena and the Seattle Hub.
  • June 2, 2023 – United Airlines adds a second daily flight in between Helena and United’s Denver hub, essentially doubling their capacity in Helena.
  • December 23, 26-30, January 2-7 – Delta Airlines adds a third daily flight between Helena and the Salt Lake City Hub to provide more capacity for holiday travel.
  • May 16, 2024 – Alaska Airlines adds flights in between Helena and the Seattle Hub to their summer 2024 schedule (May 16-August 19).


Ongoing Recruitment Efforts

The Helena Regional Airport Authority and Helena Air Service Alliance, along with numerous businesses, organizations, and individuals will continue focused efforts to secure more service. We are continually communicating with all airlines to find opportunities. Some of the priorities include restoring Delta’s Minneapolis Hub service, secure new American Airlines service to the Dallas Hub, and to transition United service from 50 seat CRJ’s to 76 seat Embraer 175 jets, and seeking service to Phoenix and other leisure destinations, through a network or low-cost carrier. Members of the Airport and Helena Air Service Alliance recently met in person with numerous airline representatives to continue exploring every possible opportunity. Airlines we are met with included: Alaska, Allegiant, American, Breeze, Cape Air, Delta, Southwest, Southern, Sun Country, and United. Below is a summary of 2 specific efforts we are working on (in addition to others):

  • Delta Airlines Minneapolis Service – Efforts continue to restore the Delta service to Minneapolis. The Airport has reminded Delta about the Airport’s Fee Waiver Program for new service (which applies to this route since it has been gone for over two years and thus considered “new” per FAA approval). This fee waiver gives Delta (or any airline adding new service) use of the airport at no cost for 2 years. Additionally, our collogues at the Minneapolis Airport are also communicating with Delta on their side to help get this flight restored. If you are interested in helping bring this back – contact the Helena Chamber of Commerce to donate cash for the incentive package at (406)-442-4120.
  • American Airlines Service to Dallas – We continue to work on convincing American to start service and they are one of the airlines we met with recently. To recap, the Airport received a $1,000,000 Small Community Air Service Grant dedicated to this effort. We have also raised funds locally and the Airport Authority has adopted a fee waiver package for any airlines offering new service (one of the few things airports can do legally) to generate an incentive package currently totaling $1.6 Million. We also need additional funds towards this effort to ensure Helena is chosen for this service as there is competition from other airports/communities to get this same service. Contact the Helena Air Service Alliance if you are able to help donate to the effort at (406)-442-4120, or [email protected] .
  • Effort to Secure Direct Service to Phoenix – Phoenix service has long been a goal of the airport and the community. The Helena Air Service Alliance is actively working with an airline to secure direct PHX service. The incentive funding pool held by the Alliance along with the Airport’s 2 year fee waiver program are critical components of this effort as well. Contact the Helena Air Service Alliance if you are able to help donate to the effort at (406)-442-4120, or [email protected] .


SALT LAKE CITY AIRPORT COMPLETES NEXT PHASE OF TERMINAL EXPANSION – provides easier connections through Delta’s West Hub:

Progress continues on the Salt Lake City Airport Terminal Project, which is becoming a larger hub for Delta Airlines. While we all really badly want the Minneapolis service back and will keep doing everything possible to make that happen with the community’s help, Delta’s hub connections at Salt Lake will now be more efficient as additional gates were recently opened which also marked the end of the remote loading / bus transfer between concourses. Here is a story about the recent opening of the next phase in Salt Lake City:   

Presentation slides & information from a previous Community Update Meeting is available to view by clicking on this document: Air Service Presentation June 13 2023

What is the Helena Air Service Alliance? On January 10, 2023, the Helena Air Service Alliance was officially created. This partnership between the Helena Regional Airport Authority, Helena Area Chamber of Commerce, Montana Business Assistance Connection, and the Helena Tourism Alliance was created to collectively work to make sure Helena has the best air service possible. The Air Service Alliance’s mission is:

¨Our mission is to maintain and grow air service which benefits the community through access to airline networks, job growth, economic development, and local quality of life improvement.”

Air service retention and development is extremely competitive and must be a community effort to be successful. One major necessity to gaining new airline service today involves incentives to mitigate the economic risk of an airline starting a new route. There are numerous Federal regulatory restrictions related to what the airport itself can do with respect to air service. Airports cannot use airport funds for airline revenue guarantees and other incentives, however airports can provide limited fee waivers as long as they are offered to all airlines equally. Airline recruitment is more competitive among communities today than ever. In order to be successful, communities must provide incentives and that requires money. That is where the Alliance comes in, to raise community generated funds which can legally be used to attract more airlines. The fund has been established and it is now available to receive donations from the community. Oftentimes when an opportunity does come up, there is limited time to act, so the goal is to be prepared.



 We receive a number of questions and feedback related to all aspects of airline service. The airline/airport industry is an extraordinarily complex environment and is affected by so many continually changing variables. The following information is available to answer the most frequent questions such as what the airport can and cannot control. The information gives insight on what the Airport Authority Commissioners, staff and other community stakeholders are doing to navigate the challenges present in today’s ever changing air service environment to ensure the Helena community has the best possible commercial air service possible with what the airport has to work with.

Air Fares – Who Has Control Over the Cost of Airline Tickets?

A common misconception is the local airport has control over the price of airline tickets. The reality is the local airport has no control over the amount charged for airline tickets. The air fares are set by the airlines themselves and in many cases are even established by computer-based algorithms considering a number of variables. Tickets on flights are priced in groups, and each group of seats is priced higher as the plane fills up. The following article helps explain how ticket prices are created by the airlines:

The following video also helps explain how airlines price tickets, which doesn’t involve any control by the local “airport”:


Is There Anything the Airport Can do to Encourage the Airlines to Lower the Cost of Tickets?

The Airport has no direct control over the cost of airline tickets as the airlines set the fare levels themselves. However, indirectly, an airport can help keep ticket prices less inflated as a result of airport use fees charged to the airlines. We can assure you in the Helena Airport’s case, the fees charged to the airlines are some of the lowest in Montana and the lowest in the nation when compared to other airports. How does the Airport Authority accomplish that? We maintain very low costs for the airlines to use the airport by continually finding other nontraditional ways to generate revenue such as non-aviation-based land leases and business opportunities.



There are many examples of the unfortunate realities of communities losing air service, or heavily subsidizing air service to keep even limited flights. The stories below outline just a few of the many recent examples:




Recent Article Showing Examples of Other Communities Struggling for Air Service and Many Heavily Subsidizing Airlines to Keep Service (Including Some State Capitals)


Article About Rural Communities Losing Service and the Reasons Why:






There is a Myth that Ticket Prices in Helena are Affected by the Recent Terminal Expansion. Is This True?

The terminal expansion that was done from 2018-2020 had no direct impact on the fees charged to the airlines and the project costs do not affect ticket prices. The Airport funded the terminal expansion with a variety of funding sources. The FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funded a portion of the project. The AIP funds are generated nationwide through a federally collected fee levied to airline tickets, aviation fuel sales, and air cargo transactions. These funds are not Helena – specific but are collected nationwide and distributed back to each airport for eligible projects. The Passenger Facility Charge program, another FAA program, funded a portion of the project. While this project is funded through a $4.50 per passenger fee, this had no impact on the rates the airlines charge. The remainder of the cost was covered by the Airport Authority from funds generated by the various revenue sources the airport has developed – 48% of which are non –aviation related. The cost per square foot of the terminal project was $214/square foot (if done today the cost would be much higher!). The project was completed $450,000 under budget and 6 months ahead of schedule as well.


Does the Cost of Operating the Airport or Providing Air Service Affect Local Taxes?

The entire 1,400 acre airport facility is operated as an enterprise fund and no local, city, County, or State taxes fund the daily operations of the airport facility. This was set in place in 1993 when the City of Helena and Lewis and Clark County created the Helena Regional Airport Authority under Montana Code to be a financially self-sufficient entity to operate and improve the airport facility. Prior to 1993 and the creation of the Authority, the airport received 2 mils and was included on the tax bills of local residents. Operating a commercial service airport facility is a very expensive operation and the Airport does so by operating much like a business where user fees and other non-typical airport revenue sources fund the ongoing operation. Federal funds are available from the Airway Trust Fund (FAA Airport Improvement Program) for some, specific, eligible infrastructure projects. The Airway Trust Fund is derived from Federal fees on aviation fuel sales, airline tickets, and air cargo waybills. Those funds are distributed back to airports through a competitive application process and once received include numerous Federal Grant Assurances the airport must adhere to.


Diversified Airport Income Sources



Recent Delta Airlines CEO interview about demand and capacity:


The airline industry is facing some extreme challenges, which are also leading to major changes in service levels, particularly for smaller communities. Those challenges include a pilot and labor shortage and has affected each airline’s ability to operate the same number of aircraft compared to a few years ago. Click on the link below to see more information:



Article About American Airlines Sign on Bonus Program to Recruit Additional Pilots:




Airlines are retiring smaller aircraft and manufacturers are no longer building as many smaller aircraft. This is largely due to the fact that as airline costs go up (higher wages and fuel costs to operate), the smaller 50 and even 76 seat aircraft are not as cost effective to spread operating costs over that number of passengers. The POSITIVE NEWS for Helena, is that our airport (runway and recent terminal expansion) can accommodate larger “mainline” size aircraft, so that provides us an opportunity to see these larger aircraft in the future.

By clicking the links below you can read an article regarding cities that have lost air service and a few presentations by Mike Boyd of Boyd Group International, which discusses the shifting trends and economics of the 50-seat regional jet fleet to larger aircraft.

Article About reduced 50 -Seat Jet Use Affecting Smaller Communities:


Why Did the Airport Expand the Terminal if Airlines are Facing Challenges Growing Service in the United States?

To begin with, the terminal expansion was started in 2018 following 6 consecutive years of record growth, well before anyone knew the COVID pandemic was going to happen. It was necessary to expand the terminal building to accommodate the future airline fleet transition and to ensure that we continue to support the changing aircraft fleet mix and also have capacity for Helena as the community is growing and the state is gaining more residents and visitors each year which we believe will lead to more flights eventually. Prior to the expansion, we had 170 seats in the gate areas. In 2018 we had 228passengers going out in the early morning bank alone, so we had already exceeded the seating capacity of the gate area. The expansion now allows for seating to be expanded up to 500 passengers if needed. Additionally, the terminal was limited to handling only 3 aircraft simultaneously off jet bridges and the rest had to be ground boarded. The expansion led to 3 jet bridges, each of which can be configured to handle up to two aircraft at a time, thus doubling our capacity. The new jet bridges also have the flexibility to accommodate everything from a 50 seat CRJ to a 767 or A320. The trend from the major airlines is to transition from 50 seat jets to 76 seat and larger aircraft as time goes on. Even in Helena there are trends to ultimately consider mainline (737 and larger) aircraft due to the transition from smaller more frequent flights to larger aircraft. Alaska Airlines is another example as they transition from the ground boarded Q400 turbo prop to the EMB 175 jet boarded through a jet bridge in late 2022. The airport expansion also included a ground boarding station to accommodate any smaller commuter aircraft that may still exist in the fleet into the future. Additionally, the previous terminal lacked other amenities such as a restaurant in the gate areas or additional elevators and restroom facilities. Additional wi-fi and electronic charging stations were also added.

What Specifically Can the Helena Regional Airport Authority and the Helena Community Do to Increase Air Service and Indirectly Attempt to Influence High Fares?

As previously mentioned, the Airport Authority has no direct control over the price of tickets, however, additional seats in a market typically reduces fares overall due to supply and demand. Airports are under certain limitations and restrictions based on Federal laws regarding what the airport can and cannot do with respect to seeking more flights. Airports cannot legally use airport funds towards airline revenue guarantees or incentives. This leaves the airport with only a few options, all of which the Helena Airport is currently doing. These include:

  • Hiring an industry expert to assist with air service recruitment – The Airport Authority issued a Request for Proposals to hire the services of a professional air service consultant. Boyd Group International was selected to assist the Helena Regional Airport Authority in its efforts to maintain and attract new service.  Boyd Group International has been a respected air service consultant for over 35 years and has a proven track record of success with numerous airports and communities. The Airport Authority has also previously worked with Sixel Consulting which was in business for decades and led by the late Mark Sixel who tragically passed away in 2020.  Mark and his team assisted Helena in attracting United Airlines to begin service in Helena back in 2008.
  • FAA-Approved Air Service Incentive Program – This program provides airlines a two-year period in which no airport use fees are charged for new airline service that is provided by existing or new airlines.
  • Airline – Wide Fee Waiver – January 2022 – The Airport Commission unanimously approved waiving use fees to all airlines currently serving Helena for the month of January 2022. January is typically the lowest air travel month in the nation, and this was aimed to keep air service levels intact as the airlines rebuild their networks moving into 2022.
  • Small Community Air Service Development Grant Award – The U.S. Department of Transportation has an annual grant program that airports and communities can apply for to secure funds to be used for new air service risk mitigation / startup cost / revenue guarantees. Airports cannot apply every year and must wait 3 years following the use of a previous grant. In 2021 Helena applied for and received a grant in the amount of $1,004,743. The Airport is working with American Airlines on an effort to connect Helena with Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) as American Airlines provided a letter of support towards that goal for Helena’s Air Service Grant application. DFW has over 230 daily connections which provides better access to the American network. American Airlines has not yet made a commitment to begin this service, but we are hopeful it will occur within the next year. In order to secure this air service grant, the airport conducted an effort to raise funds from the local community to supplement the grant. A large number of community organizations, businesses, individuals and others have donated both cash and in-kind sponsorships towards this effort. It is important to note that under Federal law, the Airport cannot legally use airport generated revenues towards airline revenue guarantees, so community support and donations are vitally important in our effort to secure grants and entice airlines into the Helena market. The Helena Area Chamber of Commerce has graciously agreed to facilitate the local funds to ensure compliance with the legal parameters for the air service funds generated locally.  The total incentive package available for this effort is approximately $1.6 Million including the US DOT grant, local contributions, and the airports fee waiver amount. As you can see, new air service generally requires a large risk mitigation/incentive package which is a large challenge to overcome. The airport cannot accomplish this alone, so it really does depend on the whole community.
  • 2022 Montana Airline Rendezvous – On September 7-8, 2022, Helena hosted the Montana Airline rendezvous. Every airline in the industry from big to small was invited to come to Helena to see our community, tour the airport facility and learn about its unique and cost-effective business model, and meet with airports in Montana to discuss service retention and expansion opportunities.
  • Affordable Parking – While the airport can’t directly control ticket prices, we can control the other ancillary factors such as parking rates. The airport provides free short-term parking and a very low cost $5/day long term parking. This is unique, even within Montana as most airports are significantly higher priced with respect to parking fees.
  • Helena Air Service Alliance – The airport is being supported by a number of community stakeholders in our continued quest to improve air service. Air service development today is an ongoing effort and will require that the airport and community work hand-in-hand into the future. There are also restrictions under Federal laws that prevent airport funds being used for air service incentives and other costs, so this makes it important to have community organizations involved to help facilitate those community generated funds. Examples of these entities include the Helena Chamber of Commerce, Montana Business Assistance Connection and the Tourism Business Improvement District and many local businesses, organizations and other government entities. To donate funds to the Air Service Alliance please contact Callie Aschim at the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce at (406)-442-4120 or at [email protected].


How The Airport Authority Operates and Is Funded

Here is an additional video about the Helena Regional Airport Authority that provides an overview of how the airport operates, how it is funded, how air service recruitment works, and the airport’s business model to keep the 1,400-acre campus updated and efficient, in addition to commercial airline service: