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AirTran buyout may bring Southwest to Branson Airport

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Branson Airport’s first and largest carrier is under hot pursuit by Southwest Airlines.
AirTran Holdings Inc. (NYSE: AAI), the parent of AirTran Airways, is reviewing a $1.4 billion acquisition proposal by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines.

Little is known about the local impact because the deal is pending AirTran shareholder and regulatory approvals.

“We’re very excited about the prospect of what it means for Branson and the surrounding communities,” Branson Airport Executive Director Jeff Bourk said today.

He deferred further questions to the carriers, which could not be reached by deadline.

AirTran was the first carrier to sign on with the Branson Airport before it opened in May 2009. Earlier this month, AirTran added a third nonstop flight to and from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

On a Web site dedicated to the potential merger of the two discount carriers,, Southwest officials say the airline is interested in serving the vast majority, if not all, of AirTran’s current markets.

In a telephone call with analysts reported today in the Wall Street Journal, Southwest executives said the deal with AirTran would take years to implement but could close in the first half of 2011.

Executives laid out Southwest’s desire to take the low-cost carrier into smaller cities, international destinations and the sought-after market of Atlanta – all part of its long-term strategic plan.

The journal noted Southwest was a losing bidder earlier this year to acquire Denver-based Frontier Airlines Inc., which also serves Branson Airport.

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