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President Obama’s first view of Big Sky country during his 2008 visit to
Southwest Montana was from Air Force One, as the famous jet-liner smoothly
landed on the West Yellowstone Airport’s tarmac. Government vehicles
awaited his arrival, including military cargo jets, Marine choppers, Secret
Service Suburbans, as well as dozens of rental cars and law-enforcement
“It was quite dramatic,” said Merry Olson, president of Olson Communications,
which markets for WYS.

The West Yellowstone Airport, with its proximity to some of Montana’s top tourist
destinations, has a huge operation: Every plane landing on its runways is fully
booked throughout the summer, Olson said.
WYS is the eighth largest of Montana’s 121 airports, and provides access to
Island Park, Big Sky, Ennis, Virginia City, the Gallatin and Madison rivers, West
Yellowstone, and Yellowstone National Park.

Commercial use, which is operated solely through Delta Connection, begins
June 1, just in time for summer. The general aviation season is longer, beginning
May 1. The airport closes to all aviation on Sept. 30 because “they can’t keep the
runways clear of snow,” Olson said. The airport is trying to get funding for snow
removal. “It would be a big boom if it could be open year round,” Olson said.

The West Yellowstone Airport is also popular with locals, who find convenience
in the location and the “hassle-free security measures,” Olson said.
WYS also hosts a full-service campground for pilots only, making it one of
the least crowded campgrounds in and near the Park. The airport’s Smokejumper
Café is a popular destination for locals and tourists. “Some pilots fly
in just to get a burger and then leave,” Olson said.

WYS also home to Yellowstone Aviation, the airport’s fixed-based operator,
which provides fuel and other aviation services for pilots and commercial
flights. WYS opened in 1965 and is owned and operated by the State of
Montana Department of Transportation, Aeronautics Division. The airport is
also one of 10 smoke jump bases for USFS Interagency Fire Control, making
it a versatile, multi-use facility.

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