Sole FBO facility opens at new Missouri airport

 - October 1, 2009, 6:50 AM

It took just 22 months for the new airport in Branson, Mo., to be built, from the first movement of earth by McAninch Construction in July 2007 to the first commercial flight on May 11 this year. While that may be a record time for building a new airport, what is most unusual about the new Branson Airport is that it is entirely privately funded; the investors who formed Branson Airport LLC in 2002 have not accepted any local, state or federal money. Thus the company gets to call all the shots at the airport, from selecting which airlines serve Branson travelers to operating a sole FBO and building hangars as needed, without being subject to requirements attached to public financing.

Branson Airport isn’t the only privately funded airport in the U.S. Developer Ron Henriksen built Houston Executive Airport in Texas and is currently finishing his second Texas airport, Austin Executive. Both these airports cater exclusively to the general aviation market, however. Branson Airport was developed with the goal of serving the public with airline and general aviation facilities. The airport’s runway is 7,140 feet long and equipped with an ILS and two GPS approaches. The airport also has a control tower, open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.

“We’re a startup business,” said Branson Airport executive director Jeff Bourk. “We believe it’s going to work out well. Being able to go to the airlines in a unique way without restrictions so far has been beneficial to us. We can offer things such as exclusivity, without fear of competition as we develop the business.” So far, Branson is served by Sun Country Airlines and AirTran Airways.

The big advantage of the new airport is the proximity to Branson, just five miles away and 50 miles nearer to the city than Springfield-Branson National Airport.
The 3,500-sq-ft JetCenter FBO terminal features a crew lounge, two sleep rooms, a flight-planning area with a WSI PilotBrief Pro weather station, a private data center, catering fridge and kitchen and vending areas. It also features a 15,000-sq-ft hangar for tenants and transient traffic. “We had a really heavy load over the summer,” said FBO general manager Ken Palmer, “and the facility was more than adequate to handle that amount of traffic.”

The fuel farm consists of two 20,000-gallon jet-A tanks and one 10,000-gallon avgas tank. Branson Airport’s 20 employees handle all fuel provision on the airport, both for airlines and general aviation aircraft, and there is a self-serve avgas pump.
As a privately held airport, the FBO has to cover its costs while maintaining attractive fuel prices to entice general aviation operators who are used to flying to Springfield-Branson and other nearby facilities. On September 9, Branson JetCenter’s retail jet-A price was $4.22 per gallon.

There is a landing fee and ramp fee for use of the airport. “In the beginning we did see a rash of complaints,” said Palmer. A lot of early arrivals were curious pilots wanting to see the new airport and for many, he said, “it was a surprise that we had fees. Being privately funded and operated, to provide the services, somehow you need to pay for it.”

The fee structure includes landing and handling fees, which range from $14 (landing) and $20 (handling) for a piston single to $65 (landing) and $100 (handling) for a Cessna Citation. Those fees are waived with a 15-gallon fuel purchase for a light single and 100 gallons for the Citation, according to Palmer.
The best deal at the airport is overnight hangaring. A small single-engine airplane can park inside the hangar for $20 or pay $10 for outside parking. For the Citation owner, outside overnight parking is $50, or $100 inside the hangar. “The fee structure has been a successful method for us,” said Palmer. “We’re not here to nickel and dime people, and we have all the amenities of an airport that is subsidized.”

In addition to use of the FBO, including a library of Blu-ray high-definition movies, a Sony PlayStation 3 gaming system and a variety of flavors of freshly popped popcorn, visitors can also use the JetCenter’s crew cars to travel into town. The best amenity, however, is likely something that few, if any, airports offer–a professional-quality short-game golf practice area.

The next step for Branson Airport is the addition of condominium hangars, to be built in the coming six months. These will range from 80 by 80 feet to 65 by 60 feet and could include offices and whatever facilities based tenants desire.