Branson, Missouri airport to be the first US private, commercial green field facility

While the eyes of the aviation world were on the bidding for the lease on Chicago's Midway Airport a little-known private airport development has been underway in Branson, Missouri. This, the US's first ever private, commercial green field airport, is scheduled to open in May-09.

The 922-acre project, which required the levelling of several of the Ozark mountains, is located in Taney County, Missouri, approximately eight miles south of the centre of Branson, which is located in the southwest region of the state, some 50 miles from Springfield and 150 from St Louis.

County authorities have no financial obligation.

The total project cost is USD140 million of which USD26.5 million is in private equity and USD114 million in bonds. The City of Branson has signed a 30-year 'pay-for-performance' agreement with the airport. Taney County officials have no financial obligation to the airport but agreed to accept ownership of the property and provide a long-term lease to Branson Airport LLC. (Municipal bonds are a common feature of airport infrastructure in the US).


Terminal building contract awarded to DeWitt & Associates, Inc.

Airfield paving begins.
Jeff Bourk comes on board as Executive Director of the Airport.
McAninch Construction begins the earthwork portion of the Branson Airport project.
USD113 million in revenue bonds secured.
Master plan revised to include updated terminal design, FBO facility, rental car facility and corporate hangars.
Terminal design updated.
Master plan developed and economic impact study completed.
Branson Airport LLC established.

Planning the airport began in 2002 when a limited liability company was formed. Airfield paving and terminal construction began in mid-2008. The (reverse) timeline was as follows:

Facilities will include a single 7,140-foot-long (2,176 m), 150-foot (45m) -wide runway; a 5,800 square m terminal that will ultimately have capacity to handle more than one million en-planements annually (250,000+ in the first year); and a general aviation facility to handle corporate and general aviation aircraft.

There will be ILS approach to Runway 32 and GPS approaches with vertical guidance to Runway 14 and 32. Auto rental and ground transportation capabilities will be provided.
The airport is designed to accommodate midsize commercial aircraft (B717, B737), but can handle those as large as a B757.

Innovative business model

Branson Airport LLC is introducing an "innovative business model". It will offer 'exclusivity' to airlines and vendors and develop unconventional revenue streams, such as offering naming rights and other sponsorship opportunities. It will also operate its own affinity program to attract air travellers to Branson and promises 'concierge-like' customer service, which will see on-site 'associates' helping arriving passengers to customise their experience. For example, travellers returning rental cars will not touch their bags. As they step out of their cars, a porter will pick up their luggage, hand them their boarding pass, and they then walk directly into the terminal.

AirTran Airways will become the first airline to operate from the airport when it opens for commercial service in May-09. AirTran plans to operate daily Atlanta-Branson service from 11-May-09. It is understood that the management will target LCCS primarily, allying low cost air travel with high customer service standards at the airport in a manner that is well established in the US but often unachievable at European ones.

The airport is driven by the need to accommodate better a large influx of visitors to the region. Branson currently attracts more than eight million travellers a year, mostly by road. Of those, 5.4 million travel from beyond 300 miles. It is less than day's drive from one third of the US population. By offering low-cost flights from large US cities, the airport will position itself to propel tourism and revenue to the next level.
Branson, population even now just 6,000, was relatively unknown until 1907 when Harold Bell Wright's bestselling novel, The Shepherd of the Hills, shepherded in the beginnings of an age of tourism. Since then, this small town nestled in the Ozark Mountains has evolved into one of the top vacation destinations in the country although it is still not well known outside the US, which could yet see more visitors arriving via primary international gateways like Atlanta, Dallas and St Louis. The city claims to offer something for everyone.

Live music show capital of the world

Apart from outdoor activities and adventures in the mountains and lakes, 12 golf courses, a major theme park and another in the planning stage, museums and convention facilities, Branson also claims to be 'the live music show capital of the world', with 52 live performance theatres covering the full gamut of music and vaudeville. It promotes itself with the slogan 'someone you love is always playing in Branson' and is one of the top 20 family vacation resorts in the country, according to the Associated Press. If Las Vegas and Atlantic City cater to gamblers, Nashville to country music and Austin, Texas to avant-garde and new wave performers, Branson is the archetypal middle-of-the road music city and very much on the same scale.

Air access difficult presently

Unusually for a city that attracts so many family vacationers and that, some claim, is choked with private vehicle (82%) and motor coach (5%) traffic year-round, accessing Branson directly by air has been hitherto comparatively difficult, even with the comprehensive surface shuttle services that exist. Air passengers currently arrive and depart mostly via the Springfield/Branson national airport, owned by the City of Springfield and featuring service by legacy/hub airlines American (Dallas, Chicago, St Louis); Delta (Atlanta); Northwest (Detroit, Minneapolis, Memphis); United (Chicago, Denver), plus Allegiant (Las Vegas, Orlando, Tampa, Phoenix). The lack of (1) direct air connection to and from the northeast and west coast and (2) internationally at Springfield will be of interest to the new airport managers though a 2.1 km runway will prohibit some larger aircraft from potential international operations, which might include Mexico and Canada, both of which have an abundance of LCCs. For the moment the main target airports are Atlanta (initial service agreement concluded), Chicago, Dallas and Denver. Numerous transatlantic scheduled service and charter carriers employ B757 type models and could be targeted, and the airport is expanding the scope of the project to meet additional demand even if further infrastructure enhancements are not in the pipeline. International service would require customs and immigration designation.

The town's namesake airline chief, Richard Branson could not operate internationally with the wide body equipment he has but Virgin America out of San Francisco, Los Angeles or the northeast quadrant must be considered a possibility. Virgin America has no central US service currently.

In the days immediately before the airport opens for service, Branson will host the First Annual Branson Air Show. This event is expected be the largest air show held in the United States in 2009.

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