BRANSON, Mo. -- Southwest Airlines and Branson are banking on each other.
"They have had a long history of just changing the whole dynamic of air travel of the markets that they go into," said Garrett Anderson, the city's economic development director.
The low-cost carrier touches down March 9, following its takeover of Air Tran and its routes into Branson.
"Southwest is not only going to be a driver of more tourism visitation to Branson, but for all of us who live here," Anderson said.
The private airport, which opened in 2009, is not owned or operated by the city. However, this week, the board of alderman gave first-round approval toward writing a $217,000 check to the airport. It's part of a twice-yearly, $8.24-per-passenger incentive the city pays.
"That is just another show of support for the Branson Airport," said Anderson.
But that money alone likely won't cover the losses.
According to public statements, obtained online from the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, Branson Airport is more than $142 million in debt.
In 2010 alone, the airport had an operating loss of $2.8 million. In 2011, the losses reached $4.6 million. And, so far this year, that loss is more than $5 million.
This is despite the fact the airport has spent $7-million in 2012 on advertising to attract new passengers.
The losses are mounting even though risership is up. The airport expects that in 2012, between 115,000 and 120,000 people will have boarded flights.
The airport is now asking its bondholders to approve a plan raising $23 million for 'working capital and liquidity needs for the continued operation and development of the airport."
As outlined in the proposal, the airport is relying heavily on hopes the red-bellied Southwest jets will pull the facility out of the red. The bondholder plan admits, "Southwest represents the single most important value driver to the Company (Airport) and Bondholders.
"We will see more visitors coming and have more options for people to fly out, which will help economic development," said airport manager Jeff Bourk during a March 2012 interview with KY3.
The plan estimates ridership at the airport, once Southwest comes, will soar to 810,000 annually in 10 years. It also predicts revenue will jump from $6 million in 2012 to nearly $50 million in 2022.
When asked about the plan, Bourk said he had "no comment" at this point. He did, however, express optimism about Southwest bringing benefits for the town and tourists.
Meanwhile, the city says it hopes the airport will achieve viability, sustainability, and meet the promise of increased visitation.
"We think that Southwest Airlines coming here, it is not the time to be showing any signs of concers there. We need to just be showing them support and that its something they know the community is behind," said Anderson.