Summit Aviation flight school functions jointly with Gallatin College, with about 65 students learning to fly there. They can have up to 14 planes in the air at once.
“We’re very, very busy,” said Ryan Haskin, the aviation program director at Gallatin College.
Student pilots at the school use the same runway as big commercial planes landing at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.
Having smaller private planes landing with the jumbo airliners is creating traffic jams. During peak hours about 70 planes can land at the airport. That’s more than one a minute.
“Occasionally we will see aircraft have to circle or do a missed-approach maneuver because of congestion at the airport,” said airport director Brian Sprenger.
“The airport does a good job with one runway, but with one runway you’re mixing smaller, slower airplanes with bigger faster airplanes,” explained Haskin.
A $2.3 million federal grant award from the United States Department of Transportation is helping to fix the problem. The airport has plans for a new runway geared toward smaller planes. At 5,050 feet it will be half the size of the current one and cost $8 million to build.
“Having an additional runway that can accommodate the smaller aircraft, you can separate the small aircraft from the large aircraft. That will allow air traffic control and our operations to run much more efficiently,” said Haskin.
He added that it’s not just about being efficient, it’s about safety as well.
“What we’re really trying to do is separate our fast-moving jet aircraft from our slower-moving piston aircraft so it makes things safer,” said Sprenger.
Construction is expected to start in either late summer or early fall of this year.
Students flying at Summit Aviation can expect to see a new runway by the end of next year. It will be paid for by taxes collected from airline ticket sales.
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is not the only airport awarded a grant. Glacier Park International Airport, Great Falls International Airport and Stevensville Airport are all recipients.