Flight Blog

 

There’s more great new to report about the airport’s passenger numbers: they’re up, again. We finished the month of July with 84,079 total passengers. That’s up 13 percent from the same month last year.

 

In June our numbers were up ten percent. In May they were up 17 percent.

 

This growth may not seem significant, but it is. Why? Before May we had 15 consecutive months of negative or flat numbers. It’s even more significant because we’re currently the only airport in the region experiencing growth. Example: the Tulsa airport’s July numbers were down 11 percent. Recession or no, for some reason our numbers are up and everyone else’s are down.

 

Why are we growing? This is starting to sound like a broken record, but here are some of the reasons:

 

  • The fare sales the airlines have had since the early spring. More people are flying from Springfield because the airlines have generally lowered fares in an attempt to keep the planes full. Here’s a key point: the lower fare phenomena is happening nation wide—it’s not limited to just our air market. If you think about this moment, it’s easy to conclude that passenger numbers should be up at our competing airports. But they’re not. Why? Well, read on…
  • Between January and May 6 the Springfield media market was saturated with advertising and news stories about the new terminal. This raised awareness of the airport and caused some people to check out the cost of fares.
  • American Airlines decided to compete with the Sun Country Airlines service between the new Branson airport and Dallas. That’s resulted in American fare between Springfield and Dallas for less than $200. In case you're wondering, Delta, which provides our service to Atlanta, has chosen to ignore the AirTran service between Branson and Atlanta.
  • Allegiant Air. In July Allegiant flew more than 20,000 people in and out of Springfield. That’s up 50 percent over last year. Allegiant has become the second largest airline in Springfield. American is number one, then Allegiant, followed by Delta and United.
  • The relative strength of the Southwest Missouri economy. Our economy is doing better than most of the country.

Those are some of the reasons why our airport is doing well. We can’t point to any reason and say “that’s it!”

 

So, the news is good: fares are relatively low and the airport is booming. But, beware—things could get bad just as quickly as they got good. The warning signs are out there:

 

  • Industry analysts expect the airlines to continue cutting the number of seats in the air. By the end of this year airline capacity is expected to be down ten percent year to year.
  • Our aviation consultant says “the effects of the latest job cuts have not reached the ticket counter, yet.” In other words, our demand could go down as jobs continue to be cut.

To sum it all up: the economy is the great wild card…

 

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FOLLOW-UP:  AUGUST 20, 2009

 

Steve shares compliments and a question:

 

"Great news. Since you're able to find out the passengers numbers of other airports. . . Could you please tell us how the Branson airport is doing? I wonder how many passengers are flying in there?"

 

We're able to tell you how other airports are doing because, like us, they're publicly owned. As such, their passenger numbers are public record. Now the Branson airport, that's another matter. It's privately owned so it says it doesn't have to release its numbers. Sounds good, but there's a little more to it...

 

The City of Branson has agreed to give the airport $8.24 for each passenger that gets off the plane, with a cap of $2 million a year. That's public money. That means it's a public record. The agreement allows the airport to collect every three months. The airport opened on May 11, so expect it to submit passenger numbers to the city soon.  By the way, if the airport maximizes its public funding from the city, it will need to unload roughly 242,000 passengers a year.

 

Besides the anticipated money from the City of Branson, the airport also gets state aviation jet fuel tax money and is attempting to get more. As time goes on, the blur between "private" and "public" becomes increasingly blurry. Bottom line: at some point the Branson airport will have to release its passenger numbers because it's receiving tax money.


 

This morning the airport community gathered to dedicate the airport's new fire station. It's only the second fire station in the airport’s 63 year history. It replaces the one located next to the old terminal. That old station has served since the mid-1960s.

 

The new building supports up to five fire trucks, as opposed to three at the old fire house, and its location is more centralized. This central location should reduce emergency response times. Built at a cost of $4.5 million, the new station should serve well into the mid-21st Century. While the new fire station is a great thing, it's important to remember that it means nothing without the selfless, dedicated individuals who work there: the aircraft rescue firefighters (ARFF).

 

Our airport has 17 full time ARFF members. That’s the largest ARFF staff in Southwest Missouri. Let us not forget their great concern for others, or their willingness to help all souls in need. Let’s not forget that when called to duty, they have the courage to face and conquer fears that would defeat many.


Jul 31 2009 Record Low Fares Nationwide BY sgf-adminTAGS Fares

 

"Airline prices are falling at an unprecedented rate even though carriers have slashed capacity, new data show."

 

That's the lede in a story from the Chicago Tribune. The story continues, "The average cost of a plane ticket within the U.S. plunged 9.1 percent to $315 during the first three months of 2009, the largest quarter-to-quarter drop ever recorded by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics."

 

The word on low fares in finally getting a lot of media attention. It's probably one of the reasons why our June passenger numbers were so high. Interestingly, though, I've had a few people come up and tell that the low fare phenomena is isolated to Southwest Missouri and that the Branson airport deserves all the credit.


 

We found this email today:

 

“I recently had to fly to Springfield airport to see my son graduate from Fort Leonard Wood.  When getting directions to get back to the airport to leave Missouri it gave me directions to your "old" airport.  Amongst myself and my friend there were a few other people at the "old" airport waiting for their flight.  This is VERY confusing and we almost missed our flight after realizing it didn't look the same as the one we landed at.  There should be something done so when getting directions you are not lead to the "old" airport and taken only to the "new" airport!”

 

Early last year we identified this issue as our biggest public relations challenge. Remember the scenario we faced? The old terminal would close on the evening of May 5. The new terminal would open on the morning of May 6. We knew someone would show-up at the old terminal on the morning of May 6 and that they would end-up missing their flight. To get the word out we put together a multi-faceted plan to spread the word about the move:

 

  • We spoke to as many civic groups as possible
  • We advertised on broadcast TV
  • We advertised on cable TV
  • We advertised on radio
  • We advertised on local media web sites
  • We advertised in local magazines
  • We advertised in the newspaper
  • We used this blog
  • We used the airport web site
  • We used an email blast service
  • We passed out informational flyers in the old terminal
  • We worked with local news organizations
  • We coordinated with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to get directional signs changed on state highways

We did all these things and more. By the time May 6 rolled around we achieved what I call “media saturation.” The advertising was everywhere. Local news organizations did an outstanding job—they gave us what the news industry calls, “wall to wall coverage.”

 

Well, guess what? On May 6 a bunch of people showed up at the old terminal looking for an airplane. They’re still doing it…

 

To a certain degree it’s understandable. After all, the old terminal location served for 64 years. Old habits are hard to break. On the other hand, it seems that some folk are oblivious to the world around them.

 

A week after the new terminal opened, I stood near the driveway entrance of the old terminal. The drive was block by red traffic cones. A big electronic message sign stood next to the cones. It gave directions to the new terminal. A customer pulled up in their car. They got out, moved the cones, and parked in the nearly empty parking lot. Then they walked to the front of the deserted terminal, bags in hand, and tried to enter. The doors were locked; the customer was stunned...

 

Later that day I watched several people pull up in front of the old terminal. They got out of their car and, without exception, just stood there. They looked at the locked doors. They looked up and down the empty horseshoe drive. Paper blew in the driveway; everything was deserted. They had looks of disbelief. It was reminiscent of a scene from the Twilight Zone—they were the only people left after the nuclear holocaust.  Keep in mind they had just ignored an electronic message sign and had moved traffic cones so they could get in the drive…

 

More recently we’ve had a huge sign in the middle of the old terminal driveway. It’s eight feet long, four feet tall and mounted on a barricade. People have to slow down and drive carefully around it. In big letters it tells people that the building is closed. It has a map and directions. We attached two plastic boxes to the sign. They contain printed maps showing the way to the new terminal. Earlier this week an airport police officer watched a car load of people creep by the sign. They stopped, got out, and asked the officer what was going on; where is everyone? He pointed to the sign. They hadn’t noticed it…

 

Of course, many people tell us that we need to put up some signs…

 

To be fair about the sign issue, we have to agree with the assessment that the directional signs on the state highways (all the roads leading to the airport are owned by the state) are inadequate. MoDOT has plans to put up more and bigger signs leading to the new terminal. But even after that’s done, mark my words, people will still show up at the old terminal…

 

This blog entry is long-winded, but almost over. Just one more thing to mention: GPS units. You know, global positioning system units...had no idea how many people depend on those things to get from point A to point B. They get in their car, turn on the GPS and tell it to take them to the Springfield airport. It takes them to the old terminal...

 

Technology has led them astray. But some how, some way, it’s the airport’s fault. Just ask them...

 

We’re told by the big mapping companies that it will take 18-24 months for GPS units to catch-up. And that assumes GPS owners will update their software…

 

And then there’s the matter of the bum directions given out by Google Maps and MapQuest…but wait…this blog entry is long enough!


 

June 2009 was the second busiest month in the history of our airport.  The total passenger count: 85,976. Our number one month was June of 2005: 88,024.

 

June’s numbers were up ten percent over the same month last year. It marks the fourth consecutive month of growth and comes at a time of declining passenger numbers across the country. The only other major nearby airport experiencing growth is the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. It reported its June numbers up 3.9 percent. Passenger numbers were down at the airports in Tulsa, Kansas City and St. Louis.

 

Our growth comes despite cuts in service and significantly fewer flights than last year—the the airlines have cut across the board because of the recession. Delta dropped our service to Detroit at the end of April and American cut our daily number of flights to Dallas from nine to seven. That translates to 15 percent fewer flights this June than last. So why are we doing so well? There isn't any one reason—it's a combination of things:

 

  • The fare sales the airlines have had since the early spring.
  • Between January and May 6 the Springfield media market was saturated with advertising and news stories about the new terminal. This undoubtedly raised awareness of the airport and caused some people to check out the cost of fares. When they discovered how low they were, they jumped!
  • The new Branson airport. Our analysis of fares shows that American Airlines has decided to compete with the Sun Country Airlines service between the Branson airport and Dallas. That's resulted in American fare between Springfield and Dallas for less than $200. That's great news! Unfortunately, the other airlines in Springfield are ignoring the Branson airport.
  • Allegiant Air. The boom in Allegiant service has been amazing. In June Allegiant had 17 flights a week out of Springfield and moved more than 10,000 passengers. The airline's June passengers numbers were up 37 percent over the same month last year.
  • The relative strength of the Southwest Missouri economy. To put it simply, our economy is doing better than most of the country. That translates into more air travel.