We've had several inquiries about the announcement last Friday that Southwest Airlines will continue the AirTran service to the Branson airport. For those of you haven't kept up, here's some brief background...
AirTran Airways has provided subsidized service at the Branson airport for the past couple of years. AirTran was bought out by Southwest Airlines in 2010. Last week Southwest announced that the Branson airport "will eventually join the Southwest route map." Since the announcement, people have had two questions for the Springfield airport: 1) how will Southwest service affect air service in Springfield, and 2) why did Southwest go to Branson instead of Springfield?
Here's a post we got from Mike:
"So, I read this weekend the final list of airports that will not receive service from Southwest Airlines once the AirTran merger is completed. Branson was not included on that list. Whats the logic? I know AirTran gets a subsidy, but I heard that passenger numbers are not so great for Branson. Any truth? I thought the population base of SW Mo doesn't fit into the SWA business model. Maybe SW views Branson as a vacation market similar to Reno-Lake Tahoe or something? It seems to me that if SW wanted to serve the area they would do so out of SGF. Much larger local population base and the new terminal is amazing. Outside of living in a hub city I think cities like SGF with a modern terminal have it the best. Flying in and out of SGF has so many affordances that make it virtually zero stress for me."
Mike... the logic boils down to this: the Branson airport is paying for the service. It can do this because it's a privately owned airport The Springfield airport is a publicly owned airport, which receives federal funding. Under federal aviation law it’s illegal for an airport, which receives federal funding, to pay for airline service.
As for the impact on Springfield air service, it's too early to tell. But given the limited number of daily flights, and the limited number of destinations, it probably will not be significant. We think it’s unlikely that Southwest will make significant changes to number of flights or destinations…but at this point we just don’t know because Southwest isn’t saying.