Southwest 737 lands eight miles short of destination

All over the news today, the errant landing of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 at an airport near Branson, Mo.

Southwest Flight 4013 had been scheduled to land at the Branson Airport. It instead landed at the M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport — a.k.a. Clark-Tanney Co. Airport — some eight miles away and with a runway almost half of the size of the Branson facility.¬† The Springfield News-Leader website reported that the Southwest jet took off today without incident. The aviation website reported that the plane landed some 30 minutes later at the Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma.

While this can be chalked up to one of those “Oops” moments — and was by some news outlets — the safe landing had the potential for disaster as the 737-700 came to rest only “a few hundred feet” from a 50-foot gravel embankment at the end of the runway, according to the News-Leader story by Thomas Gounley. The story and the initial one by Claudette Riley provided the best coverage of the incident I have seen in reading some of the Missouri, AP and network stories on the Web. Hey, trust me, I was a journalist¬† for some 20 years and covered several of these breaking news events that received national attention. And you can believe me because I’m always right and I never lie.

Southwest has suspended the pilots. Buses took the passengers, who spent about 75 minutes on the landed aircraft, to the Branson airport. The story today had the interesting footnote, one subtle yuk, that Southwest had to “find Branson for another five months.” The airline plans to cease flights to the airport in June.

The 2010 Census estimates say Branson has 10,520 people although the city has long been known for its many theaters catering to country music lovers and an older crowd such as Roy Clark, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams and the Oak Ridge Boys. Frontier Airlines is the other carrier currently operating out of Branson. Even with the extensive tourist trade its hard to imagine a city with 10.5 thousand folks having an airport with two major airlines serving it. Our airport here in the Beaumont-Port Arthur and Orange, Texas vicinity serves a regional population of a half-million people, however, it is only an hour-and-a-half from Houston and its two major airports. It currently has American flying to and from Dallas-Fort Worth International. United Airlines still has a bus service to George H.W. Bush International Airport in Houston back and forth to Jack Brooks Regional Airport in Nederland from its merger with Continental

Private and public entities had to put a $1.5 million revenue guarantee for American to begin flying its regional jets from Southeast Texas from its D-FW hub. American became the most recent airline over the past 40-something years in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area.

Southwest pulled out of Beaumont-Port Arthur after a little more than six months in 1979. My third airline flight, flying from what was Houston Intercontinental in 1974 to BPT, was on a turbo-prop Convair 880 that was part of the Texas International Airlines fleet. Texas International, previously Trans-Texas Airways, eventually merged with Continental.

Back and forth. Up and down. That’s the airline biz.