Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Branson Airport in the News

At 9:30 a.m. Monday, a Sun Country flight from Minneapolis became the first commercial flight to arrive at the Branson Airport....

The terminal is decorated with a lot of wood, in a traditional Ozarks style.

It features a small indoor water feature, a Bass Pro Shops gift shop and a Famous Dave's barbecue restaurant.

"This is very unique," said Frank Bucar of Duluth, Minn. "This doesn't look commercial. It makes me feel at home."

Stan Gadek, CEO of Sun Country Airlines, was on hand for the first flights. He said the airport would give a boost to Branson.

"Airports are economic engines," he said. "When this airport gets going, you'll see a lot of growth in this area."

Cliff Sain Springfield News-Leader - Full Story

KSPR on One of the First Flight out of Branson

The first plane took off from the Branson Regional Airport, headed for Atlanta.

This flight linked the country's first private commercial airport with the world's largest.

KSPR's Joe Daues took the flight to see if the skies were friendly.

KSPR Full Story + Video


First Commercial Flight Flown By Sun Country

The Branson Airport, the first privately developed and operated commercial service airport in the US, officially began operations Monday by welcoming its first commercial flight. Sun Country Airlines flight SY509, with passengers from Minneapolis/St. Paul, touched down at 0900.

To mark the occasion, arriving passengers were presented with gift bags from the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber/CVB. In addition, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the gate area of the new Branson Airport terminal. Those taking part in the ceremony were Branson Airport executives, Sun Country Airlines officials and Branson area dignitaries. "It's an honor to be the first airline to land a plane at this beautiful new facility," said Stan Gadek, Chairman and CEO of Sun County Airlines. "With the addition of this new market, customers in the Twin Cities and Branson will now enjoy low fares and the award-winning customer service we are known for." Sun Country Airlines is offering an introductory fare between Branson and Dallas of $29 each way. The offer is good through Wednesday, May 13....

Aero-News - Full Story



To the sounds of Lee Greenwood performing his hit "God Bless the U.S.A.," AirTran Airways launched its new service between Branson, Mo., and Milwaukee Monday.

The daily roundtrip flight connects Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport with the new Branson Airport, which celebrated its grand opening Monday. AirTran also launched service between Branson and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Monday.

"AirTran Airways makes flying to the Branson area easy and affordable," said John Kirby, senior director of strategic planning for AirTran Airways. "Branson is a popular family friendly destination, with more than 8 million visitors a year. Our quality low fare nonstop service from Atlanta and Milwaukee offers connecting access to more than 50 destinations, including Puerto Rico and popular vacation areas in Florida."

AirTran is offering introductory fares for Branson-Milwaukee flights of $49 each way. Travel on introductory fares must be booked at least a week in advance by June 3 for travel through June 10.

Milwaukee Business Journal Full Story



(Branson, MO) -- Over the weekend, 50,000 people watched a three day air show on the grounds of the new Branson Airport. Less than 24 hours after the show ended, the real show began.

"It's unbelievable," says Gene Conrad, Branson Airport's Deputy Director of Marketing and Air Service Development. "After only two years of construction and a day after a very successful air show, we just had our first flight depart to Dallas on Sun Country Airlines."

The first flight out of the new Branson Airport was the 9:40 a.m. flight to Dallas. It took off without a hitch. With the ceremonial ribbon cutting, passengers began arriving and departing. Air Tran and Sun Country airlines fly in and out of the city, providing service to more than 50 destination.

"Branson is a tourist, leisure destination," says John Kirby, Air Tran's Director of Network Planning. "So we think there's a good fit because we're both looked at as values."

Stan Gadek, President of Sun Country Airlines says he's thrilled to provide service to Branson.........

While they waited, passengers explored the 58,000 square foot terminal with an Ozarks theme. It sports a Famous Dave's Bar-B-Q restaurant and bar and a Bass Pro Shops gift shop. Conrad says much of the wood inside the terminal came from a buggy factory that dates back to 1871.
To Atlanta, Springfield tickets are running $134 roundtrip; Branson is $145. Dallas from Springfield and Branson will set you back $58. Milwaukee from Springfield is $98; Branson is $85. New York City from Springfield is $180; Branson is $205. And Los Angeles from Springfield is $298; Branson is $295. All of these fares are roundtrip, before taxes and fees.

Ozarks First - Full Story


BRANSON, Mo. – The first plane load of Texans to arrive in Branson on Sun Country Airlines on Monday will be making aviation history. Not as momentous as the Wright Brothers, but in the annals of American airports, they will be remembered as the first customers of the nation's only privately funded commercial airport.

Branson Airport, two years and $155 million in the making, is alone among the country's 552 airports to offer commercial air service without receiving any federal funding. Steve Peet, a Connecticut businessman, heads a group of investors who saw potential in the popular tourist town that, while receiving more than 8 million visitors each year, had no airport with scheduled airline service.

"There's a lot of curiosity about this project, whether it can work or not," said Peet. He says trying the unknown has been more fun than he anticipated. "I'm romanced by it and having a great time, but it's a business and a business opportunity first."

The idea of some private involvement in public airports is not new. In 1996, Congress passed legislation allowing a limited number of already existing airports to solicit private investors.

"Clearly Branson will be a test case from a commercial perspective," said Randy Fiertz, director of airport compliance and field operations for the Federal Aviation Administration. "If they can make it profitable, there could be other opportunities out there."

So far, only two airports have tried privatization under the plan. Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., was sold to British investors who, after failing to make a profit, sold the airport back to the public authority in 2007. A plan by Chicago to lease its Midway Airport to a private entity fell through when financing could not be completed. Still, those arrangements differed from Branson because they were public-private ventures that would continue to receive federal funds, and the airports would be bound by the restrictions that accompany them.

"Governments do not permit their privatized major commercial airports to engage in practices that are routine in most other industries," noted Richard L. de Neufville, a professor who specializes in airport systems at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Freed from the rules that accompany government funding, the owners of Branson Airport created a lengthy list of ideas for how to maximize profits at the airport, a list that included selling tourist services in the airport terminal, auctioning naming rights to the airport and offering airlines exclusivity on routes into Branson.

"We're offering airlines the opportunity to come in and try a route that's never been tested and then have the opportunity to grow and prosper with that demand," said Peet.

But restricting competition could result in higher prices down the line according to de Neufville, who has seen it happen in Europe where privatization of airports is common. Peet counters that he's not "looking to tick off" customers.

Sun Country is offering special $29 one-way fares for its thrice-weekly flights from Dallas to Branson for tickets purchased through Wednesday May 13, said airline spokeswoman Wendy Blackshaw. Tickets are good for travel through June 17 and also for Sept 8-29. The regular fare is $69, Blackshaw said.

Christine Negroni, Dallas News

Dan Reed AP

BRANSON, Mo. — Starting next week, pilots for AirTran and Sun Country airlines will bring the first jetliners filled with paying passengers here to Mid-America's kitschy mecca for country music lovers and budget-conscious family vacationers.

They'll land at the nation's first commercial airport built and operated as a private, for-profit business for which federal, state and local taxpayers paid nothing.

The new $155 million airport carved into a couple of rugged Ozark mountains is called simply Branson Airport. And it's as modest as its name. Its lone 7,140-foot runway can handle most narrow-body jets used on domestic routes, but wide-bodies aren't likely to land on it. Its 58,000-square-foot terminal is about a third of the size of a big suburban supermarket. The terminal has no jet bridges and just four parking spots for jetliners. Passengers will have to exit planes on old-fashioned air stairs.

But unpretentious little Branson Airport could have an outsize effect if it works: It could turn what now is a mostly regional tourist spot with only 7,500 year-round residents into a national destination for vacationers. And it could spur other U.S. cities to consider operating their airports privately, a concept widespread in Europe and Latin America and catching on in Asia.

"We've got everything you could want in a vacation destination — all at pretty moderate prices — except our own airport. And now we're getting that," says Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, a privately owned $2 billion-a-year chain of sporting goods stores focused on hunting, fishing, camping and boating that is headquartered in nearby Springfield, Mo. "It's going to open up Branson to a whole new set of people all over the country who would love to come here but really haven't been able to get here before."

Beginning in the 1960s, with a troupe called the Baldknobbers, which mixed corn-pone humor with traditional country and bluegrass music, Branson has grown as a center for live music.

Today, it has 52 theaters that feature traditional country acts, crooners such as Andy Williams and aging pop stars such as Tony Orlando. The Osmonds, the Hughes Brothers, the Duttons and the Lawrence Welk tribe are among the musical "families" who operate year-round theaters or are headliners.

New theme parks have joined the long-running The Shepherd of the Hills drama at an outdoor theater. Three big outlet malls make Branson the third-largest outlet-shopping venue in the USA. There are three lakes: Table Rock, Taneycomo and Bull Shoals.

"We've got more options than anywhere I know of, including Las Vegas," says Morris, whose company is betting heavily on Branson's growth with a big new Bass Pro store downtown and the luxurious Big Cedar Lodge resort and executive conference center on Table Rock Lake 10 miles south of town.

Getting to Branson

But getting here has never been easy. About 95% of Branson's visitors historically have come by car or bus. The nearest airport, in Springfield, is a 52-mile drive.

Glenn Patch realized that more than a decade ago. The former magazine publisher who fell in love with Branson in the early 1990s and acquired 11,000 acres of land — 900 of which are where the new airport sits — figured that if Branson were going to become something bigger, it had to be more accessible.

But voters twice rejected paying for an airport. So in 2000, Patch hooked up with Aviation Facilities Co. (AFCO) of McLean, Va., and they devised plans to build a private airport. In 2003, Steve Peet, a former bond trader and AFCO investor, became a passionate promoter of the idea and led a group of investors, including a unit of Citigroup, that in 2005 formed Branson Airport LLC. AFCO stayed on to manage construction of the airport, and Peet has stayed on to become the airport's CEO.

The Branson promoters' idea is largely a new one in the USA. Most airports have been built with taxpayer dollars or by quasigovernmental authorities using public financing or government-backed vehicles such as bonds. But it's an idea that is catching on.

Going private has advantages. It would enable cities desperate for better air service to short-circuit the slow and frustrating political, regulatory and financial processes involved in building or expanding airports. It also would let them unlock the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in their airports by selling them, doing long-term lease deals or letting for-profit groups operate them.

More than a dozen cities, such as Philadelphia, New Orleans and Long Beach, are exploring some form of privatization

Most recently, Chicago struck a deal to sell Midway Airport to an investment group led by a unit of Citigroup for $2.5 billion, only to see the deal collapse last month. Investors cited tough credit market conditions that made it impossible to secure the loans needed to complete the transaction. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is expected to put Midway back on the market, even if it means lowering the price to $1.5 billion.

Skeptics point out obstacles

"It's a copy-cat business," says Oris Dunham, the retired head of Airports Council International, the global trade group for airport operators. "I don't think airport privatization will go crazy in this country. But if Branson works, it'll probably give a few other cities the courage to try it."

Dunham cautions that public officials who sit on airport boards around the nation like their positions. "When it comes time to make the deal, most won't want to give up that power," he says.

Industry consultant Mike Boyd advises small and midsize airports on service development matters, and he's more skeptical.

Branson Airport is not likely to be the vanguard of airport privatization, he says. It's too hard disentangling existing airports from their government financial and legal tethers, he says, and financial prospects at most airports probably aren't good enough to justify the risk.

In Branson's case, Boyd says, the local population is too small, and the region's attractions aren't sufficient to consistently generate sufficient traffic for profitable air service.

"I hope they can do it. I wish them well. I just don't see how it's going to work," he says.

Backers: It's 'going to work'

Peet, the Branson Airport CEO, says the key to success is attracting airlines, especially low-fare carriers, to bring value-seeking tourists from distant parts of the country.

Branson already draws more than 60% of its visitors from more than 300 miles away, and a surprisingly large number from distant cities. Research by the Branson Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau shows that 554 people a day come from the Minneapolis area, 107 a day from the Atlanta area and 598 a day from Dallas/Fort Worth, a seven-hour drive away. Those are the first cities with non-stop air service to Branson.

"There are 5.4 million people working hard to get here," Peet says. "How many more would come here if we made it easier and affordable for them?"

The big network airlines are waiting and watching. But Peet has used the airport's exclusivity rights to attract two discount carriers: AirTran and Sun Country. Because Branson Airport did not accept any government money, it can pick and choose the airlines it will let in.

Another tool at Peet's disposal: low operating costs that reduce carriers' risk. Airlines serving Branson won't have to hire their own ground staff or pay conventional landing fees. Airport personnel will do all the ground chores, such as processing passengers and loading bags. Landing fees will be based on the number of passengers airlines bring in, not the weight of the aircraft, as is usually the case.

Branson Airport, meanwhile, will be paid $8.24 by the city for each arriving passenger, ensuring a stream of income for 30 years. It will be augmented by revenue from aircraft fuel sales and a cut from every transaction at the airport, whether it's the purchase of a sandwich in the restaurant, the sale of fishing lures in a small Bass Pro Shop that'll operate in the waiting area, or a percentage from each car rented by Enterprise, which has exclusive car rental rights.

"If we're not handling 225,000 to 250,000 passengers a year three years down the road, then we'll be in a tough situation," Peet concedes. "But I don't think that's going to be the case.

"We've got a great market to sell. We've got significant capital reserves. And we'll have all these other streams of revenue."

Peet also has set expectations low. Reno gets about 2.5 million air travelers a year, or nearly 68,500 travelers a day, he notes. Discount king Southwest Airlines has 38 flights a day there. But to reach Peet's goal of 250,000 passengers a year, Branson Airport needs only 685 passengers — five to six planeloads a day.

"Reno's got beautiful scenery. Branson's got beautiful scenery. They've got a lake. We've got three lakes. They've got lots of hotel rooms. Branson's got lots of hotel rooms. They're pretty isolated. Branson's pretty isolated. The only thing they've got that we don't are the casinos, and a lot of people don't want to be around gambling.

"What we're doing is going to work."



By Rob Lovitt
In Branson, Mo., where a brand-spankin’ new airport is set to open May 11, it’s the smell of fresh-cut cedar, weathered barn wood and stone-cut dust as teams of construction workers race against the clock. Overlaying it all, you can almost catch a whiff of the intense anticipation that surrounds this groundbreaking project.

Full Story On MSNBC

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