Two major aviation events coming to Great Falls in 2020

Great Falls will host two major aviation gatherings in 2020.

Airport Director John Faulkner told the airport board during their Nov. 26 meeting that Great Falls had beat out Billings to host next year’s gathering of airline carriers in September.

Faulkner said all of the North American carriers had been invited and earlier this fall, nine had attended the conference in Big Sky.

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“It’s a really exciting opportunity,” Faulkner said to showcase the Great Falls airport, city and the region in the hopes of attracting airlines to add flights or additional routes through the city.

“It comes at a critical time,” Faulkner said as the airport and chamber are at about 80 percent of their fundraising goal for a new airline incentive program that would also be used to bolster a federal grant for new service from Great Falls.

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Faulkner said the airlines don’t pay to send their representatives to the conference so communities have to attract them with activities and comp their lodging. He said the Springhill Suites had blocked 25 rooms for the conference at no cost to the airlines.

Faulkner said the airline representatives will be in Great Falls for a few days and much of that time will allow local officials to showcase the tourism pitch for the area and what the region has to offer. He said the agenda is still being formed, but they’ll likely plan a dinner or taste of the city style event in downtown one night and are organizing a number of outdoor activities, including fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and more for one of the days.

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Faulkner said hosting the conference in Great Falls next year comes at a good time since traffic for all airlines through Great Falls, with the exception of Allegiant, are seeing all-time high traffic.

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He’ll be headed to Chicago next week to meet with United Airlines officials to discuss the future of their Chicago route from Great Falls and the possibility of new routes to California or Texas, he said.

Great Falls will also host the Montana Department of Transportation’s aviation conference in February.

Faulkner said the Great Falls tourism office is estimating that the conference will bring about 400 people to the city.