BRANSON — Southwest Airlines began flying into Branson Airport less than a month ago. Now, Branson Airport is again making history with the airline, this time because the private airport will be the first location in Southwest’s history that the airline has flown into without an air control tower, or so it appears.
On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Branson Airport has one of 149 Federal Aviation Administration contract air control towers set to close, beginning April 7. The closings are part of the agency’s sequestration implementation plan.
Branson Airport Executive Director Jeff Bourk said, despite the news that came out late last week, the airport is prepared to deal with the change.
“Not one person flying into Branson, nor will commercial service be impacted by this closing,” Bourk said. “We are working with our stakeholders and other advisers to decide which contingency plan is the best, as well as working with the FAA to try and understand exactly why this happened.”
While the closing may be a first for Southwest Airlines, it is something they are familiar in dealing with.
“Yes, it is true that this will be the first (non-towered airport), but Southwest does fly into smaller airports after towers have closed for the evening,” Bourk said. “Those traveling in and out of the area should not notice a difference at all.”
Although the tower still appears on the list of those to be closed, the Branson Airport tower is in the last group scheduled for closing.
“We believe that, ultimately, this tower should be funded, and we’re still positive that a new solution can be put in place,” Bourk said. “But, at the same time, we’ll have the extra time to get the best of the contingency plans in place going forward.”
If the tower remains on the list and does close, it will not change the fact that Southwest will still call Branson home, Southwest officials have reported.
“Southwest will work with the Branson Airport on next steps to ensure a smooth operation, and we do not expect any immediate changes or delays to our operation,” said Chris Mainz, communication representative for Southwest Airlines. “We continue to work with the FAA and (Transportation Security Administration), as well as all of our airport partners, to ensure any future customer impact is kept to a minimum.”
As far as towers that were spared, the FAA made the decision to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest. An additional 16 federal contract towers under the “cost share” program will remain open because congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers.
These cost-share program funds are subject to sequestration but the required 5 percent cut will not result in tower closures.
“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a press release. “Unfortunately, we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”
While many airports will lose their towers, safety will not be compromised.
“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said.
The FAA will begin a four-week phased closure of the 149 federal contract towers, beginning April 7. The Branson tower, along with the final group of towers is scheduled to close May 5.