Branson's Private Commercial Airport On Track

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The U.S.'s first private airport designed to accommodate airliners will open in May of next year and will be a new wrinkle in air transportation. The $155 million airport, with a 7,200-foot runway designed for aircraft weighing up to 700,000 lbs. is entirely privately funded, even though spokesman Gene Conrad told AVweb the project would likely have qualified for millions in FAA funding. But if the FAA had written even the smallest check for the development, that would have imposed right of access rules that are not part of Branson's business plan.

As a private airport, the investors can pick and choose which airlines serve Branson, who gets the rental car concession and every other commercial consideration at the facility. That means the airport can cut exclusive deals with airlines for specific routes. Conrad said the airport can even include fare caps in the deals it makes with airlines to prevent gouging. Despite the successful marketing of Branson as a tourism entertainment destination, the closest commercial airport is more than 60 miles away and airfares are high because of the connections required. Conrad said he expects the airport to be popular with business jets, too, and not just because of the celebrity traffic. "With our central location and the price of fuel, I can see how a lot of business aircraft will be based there," he said. The airport opens with an air show and concert in May.