Two years ago, only cows occupied the hilly 922-acre expanse just outside Branson, Mo. But aggressive construction, including moving nearly 12 million cu yd of earth has transformed it into the nation’s first privately financed and operated commercial airport. Scheduled to open on May 8, the $155-million Branson Airport will serve eight million annual travelers. It includes a 7,140-ft-long, 150-ft-wide concrete runway, a 58,000-sq-ft, four-gate terminal and general aviation hangar facilities. AirTran and Sun Country will launch service on May 11.

Branson runway can be expanded from 7,140 ft to 9,500 ft if demand requires.
Photo: MCaninch Corp.
Branson runway can be expanded from 7,140 ft to 9,500 ft if demand requires.

“Being a private entity gives us more flexibility in pricing, [and the]ability to offer exclusivity arrangements with airlines and vendors and take advantage of other potential revenue streams,” says Steve Peet, CEO with developer-owner-operator Branson Airport LLC.

In return for a 45-year lease, Peet’s firm transferred the land to Taney County, which formed a state Transportation Development District that issued $114 million in municipal bonds to bolster $41 million in equity funds.

Contractor McAninch Corp., Overland Park, Kan., had to have the airport substantially complete within 22 months after the notice to proceed in July 2007, says McAninch Vice President Don Taylor. His firm won a competitive bid at the 65% design stage. Liquidated damages would be $15,000 per day for the first 30 days late, and $30,000 after that. With five full crews working night and day, “we’ve easily met all the deadlines,” he adds.

The site’s uneven, rocky terrain required cuts and fills as deep as 120 ft and 170 ft. “There were times when it was hard to visualize that everything would be flat enough for an airport,” Taylor says.

The runway can be expanded to 9,500 ft, while the terminal, built by DeWitt & Associates Inc., Springfield, Mo., can easily expand. Airport Executive Director Jeff Bourk doesn’t expect a resulting flurry of private commercial airport projects. “It would have to be a situation similar to Branson, where you have an underserved need for millions of passengers who come from long distances,” he says.