Branson may soon have a straight shot to travel to the Twin Cities.
The Branson Airport has been given a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Small Community Air Service Development Program. The grant will be used toward a long-term strategic goal of expanding the airport’s non-stop service, specifically service to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Our community is grossly underserved with access to airline routes,” Branson Airport Executive Director Stan Field said in a statement. “We are very appreciative the U.S. Department of Transportation chose the Branson Airport for this grant award. We have had significant talks with Sun Country about bringing service from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Branson. These grant funds will help greatly in negotiating and completing the deal with the airline. This route, combined with Frontier’s current flights between Denver and Branson, will bring more visitors to our market.”
Sun Country Airlines expressed interest in providing nonstop service to Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in a letter to the DOT. The letter said if Branson Airport received the grant, they would consider service starting in 2023.
“We have met with Branson Airport leadership many times, understand the history of air service in Branson, and have been considering this opportunity for some time,” Sun Country Director of Network Planning and Airline Scheduling Joe Beckendorf said in the letter. “The Minneapolis-St. Paul market consistently ranks in the top 2 Branson visitor markets for cities beyond 600 miles. There is a demonstrated ability to drive air traffic based on Department statistics and visitor data provided by Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau.”
One of the conditions of the grant is the funds be used to maintain or build air service options to smaller community airports.
“In so many of our nation’s smaller communities, local air service is crucial to residents’ lives and livelihoods,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “We’re proud to award these grants to help strengthen local air service in 25 smaller communities and help Americans across the country get to where they need to go more efficiently and affordably.”
A portion of the funding being used to bring Sun Country back to Branson, who operated a MSP-BKG run in 2009, will be local money.
“[The grant funds] will be paired with $300,000 of local funds coming from a broad section of sources in the community,” the Branson Airport proposal to the DOT reads. The proposal mentions the sources being part of a “Risk Mitigation Fund” which had listed contributions including Taney County government; Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau; Tourism Community Enhancement District, the City of Hollister, the Taney County Partnership; and 11 “business entities” who were not individually named.
“We want the community as a whole to be supportive of new air service,” Airport officials stated in the proposal. “This is how we believe we can make new air service become successful and become self-sustaining over the long-term. It is important to us to have the community invested in this process, so a high level of local match is included in our plan.”
An additional $100,000 in “marketing funds” will also be contributed from local sources, making the total overall local contribution 44% of the overall funds given to Sun Country or used to promote Sun Country’s potential twice-weekly round trip flights. The matching funds were a requirement for the grant.
“Branson is a national tourism market that is deserving of low-cost air service,” Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau President & CEO, Jason Outman said in a statement. “Grants such as this help support the establishment and marketing of quality air service from many of our target visitation markets, such as Minneapolis-St. Paul...one of our top markets outside of 600+ miles. Making our region more accessible and affordable for arrival by air is a key to moving the visitor needle economically.”
The airport’s grant application received significant support in letters from elected officials at all levels of government.
“The SCASDP (Small Community Air Service Development Program) would greatly help Branson Airport and its community partners in providing quality service to their residents, as well as safe and secure transportation opportunities,” Missouri U.S. Senator Roy Blunt wrote.
“I firmly believe the Branson Airport is in many ways the exact kind of airport this grant was designed to help support,” Congressman Billy Long wrote.
The Taney County Commission stated in their letter a state study showed the airport brought $91 million in economic impact to the region and helped create 1,460 local jobs.
“The airport is critical to the tourism/economic growth of our region,” the Commission wrote. “Additional routes will greatly help our community, both in supporting our tourism-based community and providing needed air service options to our residents.”
The mayors of Branson and Hollister both sent letters with the airport’s application speaking of the importance of a national carrier on the area’s tourism industry.
“With over 10 million visitors and a tourism economy and future growth this area would be greatly enhanced by an additional carrier,” Branson Mayor Larry Milton wrote.
“The current lack of a national network carrier is having a substantial adverse impact on the largest portion of our economy, the tourism market and related jobs,” Hollister Mayor Lamar Patton wrote. “The approval of this grant request would be a significant benefit towards the effort to secure much needed air service for our communities.”
Field expressed his thanks in his statement for the support of all elected officials.
“A big thank you to Congressman Long and Senator Blunt for their support and advocacy, as well as our local elected officials and business leaders,” Field said.
The Branson Airport currently offers nonstop service to Denver, Colorado through Frontier Airlines.