Flight Blog

Aug 23 2007 Cheaper Fares in Tulsa BY adminTAGS Fares

 

A columnist for a Springfield paper writes today about the frustration of finding cheaper flights in Tulsa. I felt his pain, but I also got a good chuckle. His misperceptions about the airline business are understandable and commonplace.

 

In trying to understand why low-cost airline ExpressJet doesn't serve Springfield, he writes, “I saw the airport in Albuquerque and I saw the airport in Tulsa. I wasn’t impressed. They weren't that much bigger than the Springfield-Branson National Airport.” That’s not quite right. Here’s how the 2006 total passenger numbers stack up:

 

  • Albuquerque: 6,346,159
  • Tulsa: 3,163,475
  • Springfield-Branson: 862,611

The airports in Albuquerque and Tulsa are much, much bigger than Springfield-Branson. That’s why those airports have lured ExpressJet.

 

It’s also worth noting that ExpressJet is not a discount carrier running in the same league as Southwest, JetBlue, AirTran, etc. It’s a regional jet company that flys for other airlines. In April it started flying under its own name at cut rate prices. This news story from Reuters sums it up well. It will be interesting to see if the airline can hold on.

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Aug 17 2007 Change the Airport Name? BY adminTAGS General

 

Michael says, "I know that Branson was added to the airport name for marketing purposes and to produce less confusion with other Springfields probably , but I've always thought the Branson name was a slap in the face to Springfield and surrounding communities.  Any thought of changing the name to Ozarks National or something of the like to drop the Branson name but avoid the Springfield confusion?"

 

I have a hard time imagining a time when we would drop "Branson" from the airport's name. As you say, it was added in the mid 1990s to help travel agents and customers figure out that there is an airport near Branson. Before the name change, travel agents would plug Branson into the computer and Kansas City and St. Louis would pop up as the nearest airports! I understand that still happens, but not nearly as much as it used to. Even if the Branson airport gets air service, there will still be Branson bound people flying through this airport. So, bottom line, I don't think it would make much business sense, or customer service sense, to drop Branson from the name.

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Reggie wants to know, "Is the airport or other powers to be actively seeking new airlines and destinations for our airport. If so, is any of that going on now, and how does that work. In other words, are we trying to lure additional service airlines and/or locations to our city at this time, and can you comment on what exactly is being done."

 

Seeking new airlines and destinations is an on-going  process. Off the top of my head, I count at least eight airlines that we've talked to since the beginning of the year. When I say we "talked to them", here's what I mean: we've provided them with statistics and our rational for why they should provide new or additional service. We keep in touch. We treat these conversations like a business negotiation. Which is to say, we don't talk about them publicly.

 

Occasionally (and I'm talking about the industry as whole), an airline calls out of the blue and wants to start new service. That happened here earlier this year. The airline even went as far as signing a ground handling agreement with the airport. Then they bumped their start date. They bumped it again and again. Will they eventually start service? I have no idea (grumble, grumble).

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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.

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The Friday edition of the Springfield paper printed a letter to the editor from a gentleman who believes the new midfield terminal is not needed.

 

His point-of-view is understandable. At first blush the business of running an airport is simple and straight forward. But beneath the surface it’s anything but...

 

The current terminal was built in 1964 and has had at least five significant additions. Over the years it has served well, but has reached its limits—especially in its abilities to handle security, plane parking and passenger numbers.

 

Expanding the terminal was given lots of thought, but a study concluded that it would actually be cheaper to build a new one. Why? The current facility is landlocked. Major industry sits to the east. Taxiways and runways sit to the west. Expanding to the south and north would rob the private aviation community of space and would end up making the terminal longer (from north to south) and less functional.

 

These are difficult concepts to explain—not because they can’t be understood, but because they are out of sight and unknown to airport customers. It helps to be here, behind the scenes, standing on the apron, witnessing aircraft operations at six in the morning, to see that the terminal is not up to the task. You have to stand in the baggage screening rooms, watching screeners do their vital work in cramped conditions, while the sheer volume of baggage grows from year to year. You have to witness our staggering passenger growth and know that the capacity of the current terminal is about a million people a year—a number we’ll probably reach within five years. The new terminal will be done just in time.

 

In this business you have to look to the future and act now. If you don’t, you’ll be criticized later for doing nothing.

 

Besides providing a great airport, one of the best things we can do for our customers is provide information. The goal of the blog is to provide answers and transparency. So please, ask away. We'll do our best provide straight and meaningful answers.

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