Airport Task Force Presents Report to City Council - December 4, 2018

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A nine-member task force comprised of representatives appointed by the Springfield City Council presented its report December 4, 2018. The report outlined to the Council the pros and cons of transferring the Springfield-Branson National Airport’s governance and ownership to a regional airport authority or similar model.

Task force co-chair Jim Anderson, who serves on the airport’s 11-member board of directors, said while the idea of a change in governance at the airport has been discussed informally for decades, City Council formed the task force earlier this year at the request of the board.

Anderson and fellow task force members Stephanie Sumners, representing Ozarks Technical Community College, and Bill Hammitt, president of AMPROD Holdings and representing the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, co-presented the report. Airport Director of Aviation Brian Weiler and other airport staff were also on hand to answer questions.

The task force stressed to Council that the exploration was not conducted due to problems with current governance, but that they felt a change could help the airport by allowing it to streamline decisions, be more entrepreneurial and have greater flexibility to respond to the unique and dynamic aviation industry.

“We applaud City Council for taking the steps to assemble this task force to complete a comprehensive review to explore this possibility,” Anderson said.

The task force’s charge was to research the advantages, disadvantages, feasibility and community impact of such a transition. Maintaining airport employees’ rates of pay, health insurance and retirement benefits is a top concern.

The task force met seven times, from July through November, to hear from representatives from the airport, the Missouri Local Government Employee Retirement System (LAGERS), the Federal Aviation Administration, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), the Des Moines International Airport, the Tulsa International Airport, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, and from professionals with experience in airport governance options and in bond financing of public infrastructure projects.

Airlines with service out of the Springfield-Branson National Airport are American Airlines, with service to Charlotte, Chicago and Dallas; Allegiant, with service to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Orlando, Tampa/St. Pete, Phoenix, Punta Gorda/Fort Myers (seasonal) and Destin/Fort Walton Beach (seasonal); Delta, with service to Atlanta; and United, with service to Chicago, Denver and Houston.

Known as a City “enterprise fund,” the airport already operates somewhat independently because it receives no tax support and is self-sufficient, Anderson said. It has an annual economic impact of approximately $500 million, has 100 full-time employees, contains 40 businesses, has its own police and fire departments, and is expected to serve 1 million passengers in 2018. Last year, the airport served a record-breaking 993,129 passengers.

Approximately 41 percent of the top 100 airports in the U.S. are operated by airport authorities. Eight of those have transitioned from municipally operated entities since 2000, with none having transitioned back.

The task force made the following recommendations to City Council:

  • That steps be taken to migrate the governance structure of the Springfield-Branson National Airport from a City department to a standalone Regional Airport Authority.
  • That during such conversion process, existing airport employees be recognized as a significant asset and experience no reduction in pay or benefits as a result of this change.
  • That the City retain the current process to appoint Airport Board members, but changes be made to allow greater regional representation.
  • That an Airport Authority Implementation Committee be established and made up of qualified professionals to recommend specific steps needed to complete this process.

The Airport Authority Implementation Committee would analyze factors such as asset ownership, debt coverage, access to capital, employee benefits, migration method and how the airport would take over the services currently provided by the City, such as issuing bonds and hiring employees.

The task force did not recommend a timeline for the transition. According to Weiler, the transition may require a change to the City Charter and review by an implementation team.

Task force members

  • Jan Fisk, mayor pro tem, co-chair
  • Jim Anderson, Springfield-Branson National Airport board of directors, co-chair
  • Phyllis Ferguson, City Council
  • Charlotte Hardin, at-large member appointed by City Council
  • Jerry Compton, at-large member appointed by City Council
  • Rob Fulp, Springfield-Branson National Airport board of directors
  • Bill Hammitt, representing Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Stephanie Hein, representing Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Stephanie Sumners, representing Ozarks Technical Community College.