- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) - Departures from Branson Airport have taken a nosedive since its two mainline carriers left in 2014, with the closest it has come to landing a new major carrier turning out to be an April Fool’s joke.

Ridership at the privately owned and operated airport, which opened in 2009, is down 76 percent this year compared with the same 10-month period a year ago, the Springfield News-Leader (https://sgfnow.co/1OVhuq2 ) reported.

That’s by far the lowest numbers in the airport’s short history, and in sharp contrast to what’s happening at Springfield-Branson National Airport, which is on pace for its highest ridership year.

“By no means do we think the level of service we had this year was what’s needed, but it was a good experiment in a way,” Branson Airport Executive Director Jeff Bourk told the News-Leader.

The airport has been challenged by the consolidation of the airline industry, which has resulted in the largest carriers focusing on the most profitable routes.

Through the end of September, Branson Airport had operational losses of $2.4 million for the year. In 2014, the airport lost just under $424,000.

Its airport’s two mainline carriers left permanently in 2014, starting with Southwest Airlines departing that June and Frontier Airlines taking off four months later.

They have been replaced by public charter flights, often under the Branson AirExpress brand, operated by several different charter flight companies.

Through the end of October, the airport had just over 14,100 boarding passengers. During the same 10-month period in 2014, it had 58,259 boarding passengers, according to airport financial documents.

A generous estimate puts the year’s total around 18,000 passengers, a fraction of the roughly 130,000 passengers in 2013, Branson Airport’s best year.

Airport officials are trying to win back a traditional carrier, with help from the Taney County Commission. In March, the county approved spending up to $500,000 to help lure an airline, with an additional $1.5 million coming from other sources.

The money is designated to pay airlines if they moved into the market and didn’t at least break even.

The only time this year a mainline carrier has been associated with Branson Airport was on March 31, when billionaire Richard Branson announced that Virgin America would start serving Branson as part of a series of investments in the city.

That announcement turned out to be an April Fool’s prank by Branson, city leaders and chamber officials for fun and free publicity, but it forced airport officials to issue an all-caps notice to bondholders that the announcement wasn’t true.


Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com

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