A Different Airport Model

Branson’s new privately funded commercial airport offers a unique economic structure

“So when that time is up, Taney County will own this airport,” relates Bourk. “That was something we had to give up, but at the same time, we were able to get tax-exempt funding.”

Freedom from the feds
There are many differences in the way the Branson Airport can be operated compared with that of the common municipality-run airport. The way negotiations with carriers are worked out is a prime example.

Branson Airport has the ability to work with airlines on a case by case basis with regard to rates and charges; and it can offer carriers exclusivity rights to specific markets for a period of time.

“How airline rates and charges are traditionally structured is completely different than what we have going on here,” says Bourk. “While the idea of rates and charges is to take airfield expenses, and pass them onto the operators (carriers); basically, we work with each airline and we negotiate a deal, with the market as the major determining factor.

“Our rates and charges schedule is very simple. We charge a per passenger fee to the airlines; there are no landing fees here. Airlines pay ‘X’ per passenger, and we are incentivized by that to help the airline fill its seats.”

It is for that reason the Branson team says it can enhance the passenger experience by treating each customer as a VIP traveler.

“Because many municipal airports are owned by government agencies,” says Bourk, “they don’t have the incentive to improve the customer experience. Many airports are viewed as a public utility rather than a service.

“We view the airport as a business which provides a service to the customer. By providing a great level of customer service, we want to build a loyal customer base that wants to use this airport.”

The airport staff is an integral part of all of the airport’s operations, from baggage handling to ticketing. Relates Bourk, if a passenger needs assistance with bags, parking, or finding their way, any airport employee can help. If a passenger rents a car, they don’t even have to touch their bags; the airport staff facilitates the service process at every step.

Apart from being able to offer carriers unique rate agreements, the airport can also grant developmental rights to airlines without the hindrance of a municipal process.

“We are a start-up business,” says Bourk, “and we are permitted for a period of time to give a vendor the opportunity to come into this business as a partner, and build its business free from direct competition.

“We want to have airlines strategically serve different parts of the country, and allow them to serve those markets exclusively without major crossover of feeder traffic to their hubs, to allow them to build those markets,” says Bourk.

John Kirby, AirTran Airways director of strategic planning and scheduling, says Branson is a virgin market, and the carrier is working with the airport as a partner to develop the market. “As a low-cost carrier, it works well for us to come into a market and have the staff supplied by the airport,” says Kirby.

Bourk says he doesn’t see Branson in competition with the Springfield Airport market, 55 miles north of Branson, because it primarily serves the business community, and Branson is looking to serve the entertainment and leisure market. “The Springfield Airport is set up to receive the business traveler, with higher fares. Its fare structure doesn’t match up with what the leisure traveler looks for,” he says. [For more on developments at Springfield, see In the Ozarks, A New Front Door.]

Bourk says the goal for the airport is to get to 250,000 enplanements during the first year. He says there is potential for enplanements to grow to 5 or 600,000 and beyond. The terminal is designed to comfortably accommodate up to 750,000 deplaning passengers per year. “Our goal is to build the service,” he says.

The airport has also set up a unique agreement with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which is the only rental car company serving the airport. According to Bourk, there are controls for pricing in place so that the rental car agency cannot overprice the customer; but by having a single agency, it doesn’t have to compete with other companies at the airport for the business.

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