The Springfield-Branson National Airport is expecting passenger figures generally consistent with past years in 2013 — in contrast to recent decreases — and is planning improvements to its general aviation facilities, which the airport’s director of aviation billed as “the front door to the business community.”
That’s what Brian Weiler told area business leaders Thursday afternoon in the fourth annual State of the Airport address — the theme of which, he said, was being “cautiously optimistic” about the future.
The airport’s general aviation facilities — which service all non-commercial civilian flights — could see the biggest change in the coming 12 months. Eighty percent of general aviation travel in the nation, Weiler said, is for business-related purposes.
The airport is starting a $255,000 largely cosmetic renovation of the 20-year-old general aviation terminal in the next month, Weiler said. The project has already been bid and should be finished in about six months.
“We’re not tearing down walls or anything; we’re just making it more pleasing,” Weiler said.
Additionally, Weiler said, while a 20-year master plan shows the airport with room to expand in most aspects, the general aviation hangar space is full, and there is a waiting list. After considering new construction, the airport instead decided on a plan to improve the existing facility by creating new hangar space, removing outdated facilities and improving traffic flow.
The airport is in line to get money for the project in 2015 or 2016 but has also applied for funds from the State Aviation Trust Fund to accelerate the project. About a week ago, Weiler said, the airport received a tentative allocation letter from the Missouri Department of Transportation.
“We haven’t for sure got the grant, but what they told us is funding looks favorable, and they’ve told us to go ahead and bid the project,” he said.
If funding continues to be favorable, the grant could be issued and construction could begin by as early as August, Weiler said.
“This would be a game-change on the whole east side [of the airport],” Weiler said.
Weiler said he believes stability is returning to the airline industry after a turbulent decade.
“Few areas of our economy have gone through more changes than the airline industry,” he said.
After decreasing 21 percent in 2011, the number of available seats at the airport fell only 1 percent in 2012. The total number of passengers who flew in and out of the airport, which fell 8 percent in 2011, increased 3 percent in 2012.
“This year, we’re pretty much expecting flat, or slightly down,” Weiler said.
Weiler emphasized that the state of the airport is somewhat dependent on the state of the industry as a whole, because the airport, like many larger ones, does not receive general local tax support.
Weiler also touted more expansive and effective advertising campaigns in 2012, as well as more efficient operations, noting that the airport also didn’t fill two positions that opened up last year, after deciding it could offer the same level of service without filling them.