Cut Bank was one of only a handful of rural airports across the United States selected recently to host a “General Aviation Advancing America” interactive forum facilitated by the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). The forum was designed to brainstorm ideas on how community leaders and the local aviation industry can work together to grow and develop the local economy by partnering with community leaders and local businesses.
Ryan Waguespack, Senior Vice President of the National Air Transportations Association, flew into the Cut Bank International Airport on Feb. 10 for the meeting and experienced firsthand why Cut Bank’s infamous penguin boasts the claim, “Coldest Spot in the Nation.” The low for the day was -38 degrees actual with a wind chill of -56 degrees.
Waguespack, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., also attended forums in Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wyoming.
Waguespack met with city and county officials, as well as local business owners, hospital officials and members of the Cut Bank International Airport Authority (CBAA) and staff and offered the services and resources of NATA to help facilitate public and private partnerships to further develop the infrastructure needs at the local airport.
Waguespack heard from local leaders that Cut Bank, Glacier County and nearby community members understand the need for the Cut Bank airport, and support it, but financing from city and county coffers is limited.
The airport is the area’s hub for UPS air deliveries and also is relied on by both the Cut Bank and Browning hospitals for transporting patients when fixed wing air travel is required to transport patients.
Waguespack suggested one private partner that should be pursued is Phillips 66, the airport’s fuel provider. Waguespack said he would use his contacts to reach out to Phillips 66 officials and put them in touch with the CBAA.
Dave Ries, Airport Manager, pointed to weather, population, lack of potable water and COVID-19’s effect on Alaskan and Canadian “transient traffic” as the most pressing challenges to growing and expanding the operation at the Cut Bank airport.
Waguespack suggested the airport would be a great place for a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination station. Cherie Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of Northern Rockies Medical Center, said she hadn’t thought of utilizing the airport, adding the challenge would be the mandatory monitoring of patients for the 15-30 minutes following the vaccination.
Jeff Billman pointed to the possibility of promoting the airport as a destination airport for those traveling to Glacier National Park. He stated many “pilot” social media sites fail to list Cut Bank International Airport and its services. Taylor asked Waguespack if NATA had resources to help with the marketing of the airport.
Ries pointed to the lack of rental cars available for travelers flying into the airport and Billman added that the uncertainty of whether or not the eastern side of Glacier National Park would be open this summer was another challenge faced by area businesses.
At the close of the hour-long forum, Waguespack assured local leaders he would research possible resources and private partnerships that may be available through NATA to assist with the further development and promotion of the airport and surrounding area.
“We cannot stop travel,” he concluded, adding the travel industry, particularly aviation, understands the “health side of it” and has taken steps to ensure the safety of passengers. COVID-19 has changed how people travel with more and more turning to private travel options, which is good news for rural airports located near outdoor destination spots like Glacier National Park.