Low Cost, High Function is Guiding Principle at Branson Airport

Author: 
Jodi Richards
Published in: 
September-October
2009




On May 11, Branson Airport welcomed its first commercial flight: Sun Country Airlines flight SY509 from Minneapolis/St. Paul, followed shortly after by AirTran Airway Flight 1582 from Milwaukee.

It was a big day for the Ozark airport that was constructed in less than two years, all with private funds. And it was just the beginning. Airport director Jeff Bourk expects between 200,000 and 300,000 enplanements in 2009, with numbers climbing steadily after that.




Relatively speaking, Branson Airport is a "low-cost" airport, Bourk says. The terminal, including the structure, construction and technology cost about $15 million. A single-level terminal with all ramp boarding helps explain the price tag. "There's a big savings there," Bourk says.

Besides the cost benefit for the airport, ramp boarding could also benefit the airlines by reducing the time it takes to turn an aircraft, adds Bourk. While Missouri has a fairly temperate climate, the airport is installing commuter walkways to protect passengers from inclement weather.

Gene Conrad, BKG's deputy director of marketing and air service development, says the design and layout of the terminal were engineered very thoughtfully to keep costs low and make the terminal as user-friendly as possible. "In order to draw in the low-cost carriers, we need to have a low-cost facility," says Conrad.

The terminal is 58,000 square feet with 6,000 square feet of canopy-covered area and capable of serving 700,000 enplanements. The structure was built to expand to handle more than one million enplanements, notes Bourk. The airport campus also includes a parking facility that accommodates 500 public vehicles and 300 rental cars. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is the only on-site car rental company at BKG.

Terminal Features

The general contractor, DeWitt Construction, built the shell of the building with many of the same materials used for a Wal-Mart or Bass Pro Shop. The interior is decorated with an Ozark Mountain theme, including natural stone from the area, cedar planking and unique water features. A waterfall and stream run through the holdroom, designed by Butler Rosebary Architects.




Because the terminal is a pre-manufactured building, construction was faster and less expensive than a "stick built" building, explains Renita Mollman, P.E., LEED AP with engineer of record Burns & McDonnell. Maintenance costs, says Mollman, should be roughly the same.

The flow of the single-story building is a "simplified process," Mollman explains. The four-gate building is easily expandable to include more gates, holdrooms, restroom facilities, etc., as the airport grows, she adds.

A Famous Dave's restaurant is located post-security in addition to Bass Pro Shop's News and Gifts. After just three months in operation, changes have already been made to the Famous Dave's. The airport did not take into account the volume of people who would come to the airport simply to dine at the restaurant, explains Conrad. To meet the demand, the airport created an area for diners outside called Famous Dave's Flight Deck.

Meeters and greeters in the terminal can also phone orders into the post-security restaurant for food to be delivered to the pre-security side. "[The restaurant] is doing better than we thought and we're just trying to meet the public's needs," Conrad says.

Public amenities in the terminal include free Wi-Fi and phone usage. Rather than installing pay phones, the airport is using voice-over-internet protocol to allow travelers to call anywhere in the United States, Canada or Mexico from the phones in the holdroom, baggage claim and FBO. To offset the cost, the airport is selling advertising on the phones - a better revenue opportunity than charging for use of the phones, according to Bourk. "Pay phones have gone down in utilization at a lot of airports and we feel it's a nice customer amenity," he comments.





Flight Service

Since opening day, AirTran has halted its Milwaukee flights, switching the capacity to Atlanta instead. Passenger numbers are still on track, though, and the airport is very close to announcing additional agreements with airlines, reports Conrad. "We've basically checked off all the boxes and are just waiting for the airlines to move forward," he says.

AirTran was the first airline to sign on with Branson and now offers two flights daily to Atlanta. Sun Country Airlines offers three flights per week to Minneapolis and three to Dallas. Since opening, the two carriers have brought roughly 8,000 passengers to Branson Airport each month, says Bourk.

Between the two airlines, BKG is now connected to more than 50 cities around the country. The nearest commercial airport is more than an hour away from Branson, and the nearest low-cost airline service is more than four hours away, says Bourk.





Security

The airport's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint is sized to handle three lanes of passengers, with room to expand if necessary, says Jeremy Berven, deputy director of operations and maintenance. Carefully reviewing layout diagrams with the Federal security director and assistant FSD at the Kansas City TSA office helped ensure the most efficient flow and securest design, says Berven.




Baggage screening is handled by a single CTX explosive detection machine, but there's space for another if needed. It is not an inline screening system, Berven specifies, but the baggage belt snakes from the ticket counter back to the screening area. At that point, the screening operator takes a bag off the belt and puts it through the machine, then returns it to the belt for delivery outside to the baggage makeup area.

BKG is surrounded by a perimeter fence. The number of gates, however, was limited for security reasons, Berven says. The airport partnered with Navigance Technologies Group, a security and technology company, to provide its campus-wide security system, including security cameras and an access control system.




According to Navigance president and CEO, Bob Jandebeur, BKG has approximately 30 high-definition cameras located throughout the airport to provide a multitude of real-time views of the airfield and buildings. The system allows airport officials to view activity at the airport over the Internet, using a variety of web-ready devices.

If a door or gate is left open beyond an acceptable time limit, a camera is triggered to capture an image of that door and designated airport personnel receive an alert.

From Jandebeur's experience, many airports and fixed base operations do not employ an information technology department or personnel to monitor all the cameras, so remote access to the camera views is critical.

"I applaud them for what they've pulled off," Jandebeur adds. "The hillsides of Missouri have been transformed into something so amazing. That town is never going to be the same."

The airport has two fire trucks on the field, Berven adds. Its main truck, a remanufactured 1988 Oshkosh vehicle, is provided by Crash Rescue Services in Dallas. The other is a 1975 Oshkosh truck that will serve as a backup truck. BKG employees also provide aircraft rescue and firefighting services.

Two retired sheriffs who are employed by the airport and commissioned by the county sheriff provide police service. "Because we are within the county, the sheriff has jurisdiction over law enforcement here," Berven explains.

Technology Saves Space

Common-use technology allows for a smaller-than-traditional ticketing area. "We've employed a lot of technology in the terminal to make the spaces that we constructed as efficient as possible," Bourk states.

Branson Airport contracted Air-Transport IT Services, Inc. (AirIT) to supply a wide range of information technology systems. According to Chris Keller, AirIT's executive vice president and chief operating officer, the firm is acting as the airport's systems integrator and providing a variety of products and services to help the airport operate smoothly and efficiently.

Among the solutions AirIT brought to BKG are: airport operational database, flight information display system (FIDS), Extended Airline Systems Environment (EASE - AirIT's shared-use application) and PropWorks. a property and revenue management system. The company also tied the property revenue and management system to the accounting system and is providing its cashier model.

According to Keller, EASE allows the airport flexibility and control over resources so it can optimize and maximize them. Bourk says if the airport had to build separate spaces for all the airlines that might operate there, the ticketing area would have been much larger than it is. "And with construction being several hundred dollars a square foot, by employing this technology, we're able to utilize a smaller space versus having additional square footage," he adds.

Thanks to common-use terminal equipment, airlines serving Branson do not have the start-up costs generally associated with entering a new market. The airport can also provide personnel for ticketing, baggage handling, etc. The airlines don't have to have a single employee on the ground if that's their preference. "We could also manage the station for them," Conrad says, "but both Air Tran and Sun Country have chosen to bring in their own station managers."

Along with FIDS filling the role of way finding, AirIT provided an application that allows the airport to generate advertising revenue.

Because all these services and products came from one vendor, Keller adds, the airport was able to negotiate a much better rate than if it had used separate vendors.

The contract, valued at roughly $700,000, also includes three years of support for AirIT's applications and initial on-site staff. "That's the value of doing it through a single-source provider," Keller explains. "The procurement process was much quicker, more efficient and less expensive. And they're operating in a totally dynamic environment. The airport controls all the resources, and they can allocate them based on usage to optimize those resources."

Cross-Trained Staff

Following Branson Airport LLC's business model, airport staff manages operations inside the terminal - including many responsibilities traditionally managed by airlines.

"Every aspect of the airport is managed and operated by us," Bourk states. "From underwing and ticketing for the airlines to the FBO and fueling.

"We're a business; we're not a public utility," he continues. "And there are revenue opportunities there." Broad airport management, says Bourk, also allows the airport to control the entire customer experience to ensure service is at its "absolute peak".

"The airlines, the passengers, anybody using the FBO, we consider all of those people to be our direct customer and we want to make sure the experience that they have here is the best that they can get anywhere," he explains.

BKG is staffed by nearly 50 employees, and all are cross-trained to handle a variety of duties. "It's important because it keeps staffing costs down," Bourk explains. "It really helps the efficiency and utilization of staff."

Training employees to work all areas of the airport was a challenge, Bourk notes, but it is working well. "Our airlines and FBO customers are pleased with their service," he reports. "To me, that's evidence that it's working well."

Since opening, the staffing format has been successful, reports Conrad. The airport recently implemented a "master schedule" that shows which employees are working where on a given day.

Subcategory: 
Terminals

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