EZ4 and EZ5 are two of the three fire trucks that belong to the Springfield-Branson National Airport Fire Department. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Many Springfield residents, even frequent fliers, aren’t aware that the Springfield-Branson National Airport has its own fire department that is separate from the Springfield Fire Department.

The Springfield-Branson Airport Fire Department is in charge of responding to accidents, fires and medical emergencies that occur on the airport property. Fire Chief Eric Sanders and his staff operate from a 17,270-square-foot rescue facility on the airport grounds. If the absolute worst case happens, they are trained to respond to a crash and start spraying water or fire suppressing foam on a burning plane less than three minutes after a crash happens.

Why care?

Commercial flights at Springfield-Branson National are at about 90 percent of the passenger traffic experienced before the COVID-19 pandemic. Cargo flights with FedEx and UPS freight make up a key part of the airport economy. The Springfield-Branson National Airport has its own fire department with firefighters who have to be ready to respond to the worst-case scenarios involving large aircraft.

Did you know?

Springfield’s first and only crash involving a commercial airliner occurred March 20, 1955. At 10:36 p.m., American Airlines Flight 711 crashed about a mile north of the airport while circling to land. Eleven passengers and two crew members died in the crash, while 21 passengers survived. Federal investigators determined that the crew misjudged the plane’s altitude as the plane circled to approach the runway.

They aren’t typical firefighters, and they don’t use typical equipment. That’s why the Springfield City Council will consider the adoption of a bill on May 2 that would enter the airport into a lease purchase agreement for a new fire truck and wheel loader.

Springfield Director of Finance David Holtmann described the financial terms of the pending agreement with Central Bank at a Springfield City Council meeting April 18. Under the terms of the agreement, the airport will amend its budget by $1.8 million to purchase the truck and wheel loader.

“The city has been utilizing the master lease program for the last 10 years, allowing the city to acquire much needed capital equipment at a very favorable interest rate,” Holtmann said.

The interest rate specified in the agreement is 3.24 percent.

“This lease requires the airport to make quarterly payment for five years, at which time the airport will own the equipment,” Holtmann said.

The airport fire department presently has three fire trucks. The new truck will be used to phase out “EZ4” and “EZ5” — two trucks that are aging. An airport fire truck is built so that in the event of a plane crash at the airport, a single firefighter can start a truck, drive it from the operating base to the crash site, and use the truck’s robotic equipment to spray water or suppressing foam onto a burning aircraft. The trucks also have robotic arms capable of piercing through the fuselage of an airplane, allowing firefighters direct access to the interior cabin or cargo hold.

Airport staff members will use the new wheel loader for different projects on the airport grounds that will require heavy equipment.

While the lease purchase plan requires approval from the Springfield City Council and an amendment to the airport budget, it does not require any shifting of tax dollars. The airport generates revenue through a variety of means — fuel sales, parking, airfare and hangar leases among the many. By law, revenue generated at the airport must be put back in the airport, preventing the city of Springfield from using its airport revenue to subsidize projects in other places.

“One thing that a lot of people don’t really understand is yes, we’re part of the city, but we receive zero tax dollars,” Springfield-Branson National Airport Director of Aviation Brian Weiler said in a previous interview with the Springfield Daily Citizen. “As an enterprise fund, we’re run like a business.”

Traffic up 60 percent vs. 2021

To date, traffic is up 60 percent at the Springfield-Branson National Airport when comparing 2022 to 2021, according to the airport’s statistical report for March 2022.

In the first three months of 2022, there have been 2,122 scheduled airline flights out of Springfield-Branson National Airport. Those flights have carried more 114,301 departing passengers, and another 116,550 passengers deplaning in Springfield, for a total of 230,851 passengers in three months.

More than 7.5 million pounds of freight moved through the Springfield-Branson National Airport’s two main carriers, FedEx and UPS, in the first three months of the year.

In the first quarter of 2022, the airport sold 1.6 million gallons of contract fuel to airlines and general aviation customers, and another 209,363 gallons gallons of fuel in retail sales.