Jim wants to know what our take is on the Branson airport and how full the Allegiant flights are from this airport.
Let’s begin with the second question. Overall, Allegiant flights to and from this airport average over 90% full. That's very, very good.
On Jim’s question about the Branson airport--he wants to know if we think it will take passengers away from this airport? Ultimately, the question becomes, will the need for a new terminal exist once the Branson airport is complete?
The short answer to the question is yes. We firmly believe the Springfield-Branson airport (SGF) will need a new terminal even if the Branson airport is completed. SGF is the airport of record in the region. It has established air service and moves more than 800,000 people a year via direct service to 12 destinations. The Branson traffic at SGF is a small and undetermined percentage of total passenger numbers. On to the long answer...
Take a step back and think about this purely from a business perspective. The Branson airport has been talked about for years and has been on again, off again for years. Construction is underway, paid for with over a hundred million dollars worth of high risk bonds, but has not been finished. An airline has yet to commit. Should SGF be expected to shape its business plan around something that speculative? Would that be the responsible thing to do--to put a needed terminal on hold because of something that might happen?
The Branson project faces several challenges, the least of which is the volatility of the commercial airline business. Since 9/11 the airlines have been running by the skin of their teeth. Profit margins are slim. Bankruptcy is common. High fuel prices and labor unrest are constant worries. The expansion of routes, or the addition of new airplanes, is done with extreme caution. Given this business climate, getting an airline to jump into an unproven market would be a tough nut to crack. And before airlines could be persuaded to jump in (on the scale predicted by Branson airport developers), there would have to be hundreds of thousands of people across the country willing to pay air fare to Branson.
Don’t get me wrong. It is not the intent of anyone associated with SGF to cast dispersions on the effort. If the Branson airport wasn’t being raised as a reason not to build a new SGF terminal, and thus eliminate the need for a new access road from Highway 266, we wouldn’t even consider it appropriate to comment. We wish the Branson project good luck and best wishes. If the developers can pull it off, they deserve our applause.