Branson Jet Center Exceeds Expectations

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

When plans began for the Branson Airport (BKG), general aviation traffic and a fixed base operation (FBO) to support it were not on the radar, says Sharon Morris, the airport's aviation services manager.

"Commercial service is the main driver behind the development of the airport," explains airport director Jeff Bourk. "But we also saw a lot of interest from jet owners in the area who wanted to base their aircraft at the airport." After reviewing research and a feasibility study, airport officials decided an FBO would be a good business opportunity. And sticking with Branson Airport LLC's business model, it would be operated by the airport and its staff.

And after three months of operation, general aviation traffic has been a "bit of a surprise," Bourk says. A good surprise. "Word is continuing to get out there and we're continuing to grow," he reports.

Morris, who previously worked with Signature Flight Support for 14 years, says the FBO's cross-trained staff is beneficial because anyone can step in and help out at any time. Her strategy was demonstrated when the airport hosted an air show the weekend prior to opening to commercial service.

"The air show was awesome," comments Gene Conrad, deputy director of marketing and air service development at BKG. The event drew an estimated 50,000 people over three days and featured well-known acts such as the Thunderbirds, Golden Nights and Patty Wagstaff.

All the Comforts of Home

Branson Jet Center is a 2,000-square-foot A-frame building with all the "pilot creature comforts," Morris says. That includes a pilot's lounge, sleep rooms, weather briefing stations, catering, galley area for crewmembers and a conference room.

The FBO's wood construction has a "homey feel," says Renita Mollman, P.E., LEED AP with engineering firm Burns & McDonnell. Like the commercial passenger terminal and airline area, the general aviation side of the airport was also designed for expansion if future demand dictates, Mollman notes.

The general aviation ramp is large enough to handle five Global Expresses at one time, Morris adds. The 7,140-foot runway also attracts flyers that cannot land at nearby facilities due to space constraints. "We provide a lot of advantages for aircraft [destined] to the region and transients who need fuel," Conrad says.

Once traffic grows, Morris says the airport will replace the FBO's 13,000-square-foot temporary hangar with a much larger permanent hangar. The airport is also willing to build condos for long-term lease for aircraft owners wanting to be airfield residents. Condo hangars for interested jet owners could be built as soon as fall or early spring, says Bourk.

Fill 'Er Up

Aircraft fueling is handled by a fleet of two 5,000-gallon jet-A trucks, one 3,000-gallon jet-A truck, a 750-gallon 100LL truck and a 3,000-gallon defuel truck. The fuel farm includes two aboveground 20,000-gallon jet-A tanks and a 12,000-gallon 100LL tank, as well as a 100LL self-serve station.

Air BP Aviation Services, Branson's fuel provider under a five-year contract, played a vital role in getting the airport up and running before the big opening - particularly with the air show. "Air BP played a key role in getting our staff trained and getting the fuel farm certified," Bourk reports.

Greg Miller, project manager with Air BP, says the fuel provider was selected roughly 30 days before the airport's air show - a short time frame by any standards - and had a lot of work to accomplish in that window.

While airport staff was working to open the airport on time, the Air BP staff was performing training, acquiring ground support equipment and conducting FAR 139 training and certification.

"We conducted two training classes since they had new people coming on board," Miller says. "And then we jumped in when the air show hit to provide feet on the ground to help where they needed additional assistance."

Miller credits his team's background and experience. "We went in, observed and found out where the gaps and opportunities were," he says.

One challenge Miller's team overcame was a lack of cell phone coverage at the airport. "Communication was a challenge," he recalls. "Even two-way radios were inconsistent."

Since the initial training, the Air BP team has been back for retraining and continues to support its airport partner.

"We're optimistic and hopeful," Miller relates. "We have a vested interest. We think they have a good business model and will continue to encourage them and help drive business their way as much as we can."

According to Conrad, Air BP is "very aggressive and out front" for the FBO with marketing support. The FBO, he adds, is performing better than the airport forecasted. He also expects traffic to increase steadily as the airport continues to meet the needs of the general aviation market.

Opening a new facility like Branson Jet Center included new challenges. "There's no precedence for this," Miller comments. "It was chaotic and tiring, but we're tremendously glad to be on board."

General Aviation

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