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Ongoing airport investments top $50M, officials say

General aviation terminal expansion is set to wrap by August

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A multimillion-dollar grant awarded last month to Springfield-Branson National Airport is triggering activity on the latest of its several projects – equating to nearly $53 million in either the construction or design phase, according to airport officials.

The $5.4 million award for the Springfield airport from the Federal Aviation Administration was part of nearly $1 billion the agency approved nationally for 114 airports via the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The local facility was one of just two airports in the state to receive grant funding, joining Kirksville Regional Airport, which received $3.2 million to construct a replacement terminal.

Springfield airport officials say the federal grant will replace five aging jet bridges that passengers use to board airplanes. The grant is expected to cover around 90% of the cost for the new jet bridges.

“It’s hard to get somebody excited about a jet bridge, but these five jet bridges were right around 30 years old, and we were really starting to have problems with those,” said Brian Weiler, aviation director for the Springfield airport. “If we did not get this grant, we would’ve had to figure out a way to pay for that with our own airport funds. That would’ve been a problem and that would’ve been a challenge.

“The fact that we got this federal grant really relieves some pressure on us and allows us to make investments in other areas.”

Paige Oxendine, chair of the Airport Board, said staff began pursuing the grant around a year ago.

“It’s not like it’s nice to have or a luxury – it is a necessity,” she said of the 10 jet bridges the airport utilizes. “So, it’s great that we’re going to be able to get those replaced.”

Weiler said the new jet bridges will probably be installed in mid-to-late-2025.

Among projects in construction or planned to begin this year include over $1 million toward paid parking lot resurfacing, $8 million for reconstructing the air cargo apron and a $6.7 million remodel and expansion at the airport-owned general aviation terminal at 5000 W. Kearney St. The latter project, led by Nabholz Construction Corp. and designed by Dake Wells Architecture Inc., is occurring roughly 4 miles from the airport’s Roy Blunt Terminal, which is used by commercial passengers. The general aviation terminal serves privately owned aircraft and is the site where planes are fueled and serviced.

The remodel and expansion project, which comes from airport reserve funds, includes updated restrooms, expansion of the administration area and pilot lounge, as well as the addition of a public community room, according to officials.

While Weiler said the project has experienced some minor delays due to supply chain issues, the expansion portion of the work should wrap by mid-April. The remainder is pacing for a summer completion.

“We’re planning for an August ribbon-cutting ceremony,” he said.

Also at the general aviation terminal, Ozarks Technical Community College is building a $13.2 million aviation maintenance training center. OTC broke ground on the project in October and the two-story, 29,065-square-foot building will be next door to its pilot training facility, where the college since 2017 has run its aviation program in partnership with Premier Flight Center LLC. The new facility will serve OTC’s airframe and powerplant program debuting in 2025, according to past reporting.

Setting records
Last year’s passenger count of 1.29 million was the largest in the airport’s nearly 80-year history. The total was 15.4% over 2022 and nearly 9% above the previous passenger record set in 2019, according to Kent Boyd, public information and marketing manager for the airport.

“Last year, we were 8,000 passengers short of 1.3 million,” Weiler said, noting he was taken aback by the growth. “We virtually doubled in a little over 10 years. And I think there’s a possibility we could do the same thing in the next 10 years if we keep growing like we are.”

He said the airport is a reflection of the community.

“If the community does well, the airport does well. It’s not really anything we’re doing,” he said. “We try to create an environment for growth, but if that growth’s not occurring, it doesn’t make any difference. The airport still won’t advance forward.”

The passenger record could be short-lived if January’s passenger numbers are an indicator, officials say. There were nearly 89,300 passengers for the month, a 9.2% increase over January 2023.

While airport staff seek to add this year to its list of 13 nonstop destinations, Weiler said no new announcements are pending. No. 1 on the wish list is a destination in the Northeast, such as New York City or Philadelphia.

“We’ve definitely got several asks, and we try to get in front of all of our airlines every year and then also try to meet with any new carriers that will accept a meeting,” he said. “We know that everybody wants more air service and better air service and things like that. It is something we’re constantly working on. But really for our size of community, we’re pretty good.”

Plan approval
Part of the Airport Board’s purpose is to act as a long-term visioning body, Oxendine said, adding that includes updating the airport’s master plan. Officials say the plan covers 20 years but is redrawn every decade. The last master plan was drafted in 2011 and approved in 2013, according to past reporting.

“What we have to do is identify how we can best position the airport to be able to accommodate that growth. We need to be able to keep up with that growth and provide great service for our community, great service to our business partners and lease holders,” Oxendine said.

“It has involved really taking a long view, which is hard to think about 20 or 30 years down the road because so much can change.”

Plans call for a terminal building expansion and a new parking garage, currently under consideration to be built on the west side of the Roy Blunt Terminal in three to five years.

“We’re in the process of submitting it to the FAA and then once we get those comments back and get everything all cleared up, we’ll bring it back to City Council to adopt it,” Weiler said of the master plan update. “We’re going back and forth on a couple of minor issues right now. I would expect it to be adopted by midyear.”

At its Feb. 15 meeting, the Airport Board awarded a contract to engineering firms Walker Consultants and Crawford, Murphy & Tilly Inc. for a parking feasibility study regarding design and construction of the garage. Weiler said the roughly $98,000 study, which is expected to take about six months, was added to the agreement the airport already has with CMT.

Even if the master plan is approved this year, Oxendine said the board’s work on it will continue.

“The master plan is very much a living and breathing document,” she said. “While there may be a period where it will be officially blessed by the FAA and the work with the consultant on that will start to wrap up, we will continue to make updates to it.”

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