The Springfield-Branson National Airport will hold a 10:30 a.m. Friday ribbon-cutting for its general aviation redevelopment project, which local business leaders hope will be a positive for economic development.
“When Matt and Ryan and the folks here at the chamber bring up an exec to come in to Springfield and hopefully employ a lot of people, there’s a very good chance that they’re going to have corporate aircraft, and the last thing I want to say is we don’t have room for you,” Airport Director of Aviation Brian Weiler said Thurdsay. “And we were at that position a year ago.”
Since then, the airport has finished making about 12 acres of airport property “development ready” for eight new general aviation airplane hangars.
“Each day business decision makers fly into and out of our community through this facility,” Tom Hilmes, chairman of the board of directors for the chamber, said in a news release. “Their ability to easily use that facility and the hangars for corporate airport can affect jobs and business investment for our whole region.”
The majority of the $5.6 million project was funded by a $5 million aviation grant from the Missouri Department of Transportation. The department’s aviation grants are funded by taxes on aviation fuel sold in the state.
Weiler discussed the ribbon cutting during his annual State of the Airport address, held at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. The airport had previously announced that 2014 was the fourth-busiest year in the 69-year history of the airport, with 846,324 passengers — a 12 percent increase over 2013.
“No number better reflects what’s happened this last 12 months than that number right there,” Weiler said.
Weiler said there is no other airport in the Midwest region that saw a similar percentage increase; nationally, the increase was 3 percent.
‘We broke a lot of industry trends this past year,” he said.
The number of airline seats offered out of Springfield increased 5.3 percent in 2014 compared to the year prior. Eighty-nine percent of seats offered for sale out of Springfield sold in 2014, compared to an 85 percent average nationwide.
“This is a reflection of an improving local economy,” Weiler said. “We can have the best airport and the best air service in the world, but if you don’t have money in your pocket, or you don’t have a business reason or some ability to fly, you’re not going to go. So I do think it is a positive for the whole region.”
Four airlines offer nonstop service to 10 destinations from Springfield — a set of figures that has remained unchanged in recent years. There are eight daily flights to Chicago, two to Denver, five to Atlanta and eight to Dallas. The other destinations are served by Allegiant Airlines, which targets leisure travelers.
As he did at the previous State of the Airport address, Weiler said the most feasible addition in the near future is Charlotte, North Carolina, on American — which would offer better access to the Northeast. The airport’s analysis shows the route would make money, he said, but the airport will make decisions based on whether the addition is more profitable than other allocations of its resources.
Weiler also said United is considering a third daily flight between Springfield and Denver. But he also noted that airlines are gradually moving away from the 50-seat airplanes that have traditionally served Springfield in favor of larger ones, which could prompt them to cut the number of daily flights to the airport.
“It’s that tradeoff with the flexibility (of more flights) and larger aircraft,” he said.
Speaking of the airline industry as a whole, Weiler said that while oil prices plunged at the end of 2014, consumers shouldn’t expect lower ticket prices.
“They’re taking advantage of this time to reinvest in new equipment that’s more efficient, taking care of their employees a little bit better and putting some money in the bank and returning some … dividends to their shareholders,” he said.
“Fares are based on demand, and demand is good right now.”
Want to go?
What: Ribbon cutting for general aviation redevelopment project. Mayor Bob Stephens, Joe Carmichael of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission and State Sen. Bob Dixon are expected to speak.
Where: 2525 N. General Aviation Ave., off West Kearney Street
When: 10:30 a.m. Friday