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SEEKING RELIEF: Branson Airport is seeking “to extend relief” for bond payments, its executive director says.
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SEEKING RELIEF: Branson Airport is seeking “to extend relief” for bond payments, its executive director says.

Branson Airport misses April bond payment

Official says the airport is seeking “to extend relief”

Posted online

After a 2018 settlement resulted in new bonds for Branson Airport, the organization has missed a payment.

A notice of nonpayment of bonds was issued to bondholders on June 15, according to documents filed with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. UMB Bank is the bond trustee.

“Payment was not made when required. Events of default have accordingly occurred,” the June 15 filing reads. “The bond trustee continues to assess what action may be appropriate given these circumstances, including the company requests for relief.”

The document does not state the payment amount that was due to bondholders on April 1 or specify events of default. The payment due is related to a bond with a principal amount of $3 million and a 5% interest rate, per the 2018 settlement, MSRB documents show.

UMB Bank Senior Vice President Laura Roberson, who is named in the June document as the contact person for bondholders, declined to comment, noting that “all of the public information is out on EMMA.” Bond documents are available to the public through the Electronic Municipal Market Access portal, a service of the MSRB.

Stan Field, who became Branson Airport’s executive director in late 2021, sent a statement via email on Aug. 9 but didn’t return messages seeking a follow-up interview. Attempts to reach Branson Airport LLC CEO Steve Peet were unsuccessful.

“The airport is working with the majority bondholders, and with the bond trustee, to extend relief. We expect this will have no negative impact on our current operations,” the statement from Field reads.

When contacted for reaction, Branson-area community organization leaders were tight-lipped about the airport’s financial situation.

Jonas Arjes, interim president and CEO of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Taney County Partnership, declined to comment. Kirk Elmquist, executive director of the Branson/Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District, said he hasn’t had any conversations with airport officials regarding the missed bond payment.

Navigating challenges
The 2018 settlement followed seven years of defaulted bond payments by Branson Airport, which took out the bonds to fund its 2009 opening, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. The settlement canceled existing bonds and issued $32.5 million in new bonds in exchange for 65% of Branson Airport’s assets and equity. The settlement also gave Branson Airport $3 million in working capital.

The privately financed airport was built for $148 million and recorded over $14 million in operating losses from calendar years 2010-12, with net losses exceeding $50 million, according to past reporting.

In a May 15 document addressed to UMB Bank, Field reported total passengers at the airport in 2022 were 12,379 and total aircraft operations as noted by the Federal Aviation Administration were 8,890, according to MSRB data. Both numbers were a decrease from 2021 totals in which 20,230 passengers and 8,211 aircraft operations were reported.

According to FAA records, in 2022, the airport had 6,204 enplanements, or number of passengers that boarded flights. That was a roughly 40% decrease from the 10,326 enplanements the previous year.

MSRB data at the end of 2021, the last available quarterly financial report filed online, showed net losses for Branson Airport of roughly $3.9 million for the year. A 2023 budget projection from the airport posted March 16 – around the time of an announcement that commercial air service would return later in the year – indicates net 2023 losses of nearly $147,000.

New Country
Branson flight totals could get a shot in the arm through the return of commercial service through Sun Country Airlines. The Minneapolis-based carrier announced in March it would offer Branson fliers nonstop service to and from Duluth, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Rochester in Minnesota, as well as Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Fargo, North Dakota, beginning in September, according to the airline’s website.

The airport projects enplanements of 3,974 for 2023, with nearly all of them coming between September and November. No Branson flights on Sun Country’s website are currently available beyond November. Zero enplanements were noted between January and July, according to the airport’s 2023 budget projection document.

Sun Country’s arrival will bring commercial air service back to Branson. Frontier Airlines chose not to continue providing service to the airport this year, which left private flights as the only travel option at the facility. In 2014, Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) stopped operation at Branson Airport after just over a year in operation.

In a news release announcing Sun Country’s Branson service, Arjes said he was appreciative of the airline’s commitment to the region and resulting economic impact.

“Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of our strongest markets beyond 600 miles, so we are delighted to see Sun Country bring this route to the market,” Arjes said in the release.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s route map shows over 100 domestic and more than a dozen international destinations, including Amsterdam, London, Paris and Toronto.

“There is always value in offering another option for arriving in a tourist destination like Branson and the lakes area,” Elmquist said via email. “Having Sun Country offer service to our market opens up some tremendous hospitality possibilities for growing potential new guests to the region.”

Wendy Burt, senior director of communications with Sun Country, said she was unaware of the airport missing a bond payment and had no comment.

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