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Business and the Economy

Branson Airport Surprised by Southwest's Plan to End Service

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Branson Airport officials say they are disappointed and surprised of Southwest Airlines’ announcement that it’ll cease service at the venue next summer. As KSMU’s Scott Harvey reports, the airline’s exit next June will mark just a 15 month stay in Branson.

The Dallas-based company cites insufficient demand to profitably serve the markets, which also include Key West International Airport and Jackson-Evers International Airport.

“It has a lot to do with local demand, it has a lot to do with the viability of the marketplace, it also has a lot to do with what Southwest is doing coast-to-coast overall," said company Spokesperson Whitney Eichinger. "So every schedule release we look at cities and we look at routes and we make adjustments. And there are obviously trends that are noticed.”

Branson Airport has released a statement noting that Southwest’s service to the city showed favorable performance compared to other markets within their system, according to US DOT data.

“The load factors for the period were slightly above system average at 82%, and fares adjusted for route distance were to be in-line as well.”

The airport adds that other factors such as Branson’s small station size, Southwest’s shrinking airline fleet, and limited gate opportunities at larger airports created by the merger of US Airways and American Airlines have put great demand on the low-cost carrier.

“All this adds up to less aircraft available to fly scheduled routes next year.   It comes down to the number of aircraft in the fleet and where to allocate them,” the Branson statement read. 

Eichinger confirmed a limited fleet can put a strain on the company.

“When you look at having to add new service with a flat fleet for 2014 you really have to make some hard decisions if there are some underperforming markets,” Eichinger said.

Southwest began serving Branson in March as part of its integration with AirTran, and has offered nonstop flights daily to Dallas Love Field, Houston Hobby, and Chicago Midway, as well as Saturday flights to Orlando.

The airline says employees at these locations will have the opportunity to move elsewhere within the company, after operations cease next year.  

Eichinger said that over the next six months, Southwest will operate its full schedule at each of these cities, and there will be no disruption to reservations for travel through June 6, 2014.

Branson Airport has struggled to make a profit since it opened in 2009, losing at least $12 million each year.

But during that time the airport has provided a significant economic contribution, according to a recent Missouri Department of Transportation study. Figures show that since 2009, the overall direct and indirect impact is more than $91 million, helping to create nearly 1,500 jobs with total payroll of more than $35 million.

The Branson Airport says they will continue to operate after Southwest’s departure in June with Frontier Airlines, and that the airport is actively working to find additional airlines to enter the market.