August 4, 2014 10:35:43 AM
JACKSON -- A study by state transportation officials shows Mississippi's 73 airports generate more than $2.5 billion annually in economic activity.
"When all of the impacts of the state's 73 public-use airports are added together, over 20,000 jobs can be traced to the aviation industry, representing nearly $722 million in total wages," said Melinda McGrath, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
The Golden Triangle Regional Airport has an overall economic impact of roughly $272,548,000, according to Mike Hainsey, the airport's executive director.
The state's eight commercial service airports accommodate over 1.1 million passengers annually. They are GTR, Greenville Mid-Delta, Gulfport-Biloxi International, Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional, Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International, Key Field in Meridian, Tunica Municipal and Tupelo Regional.
GTR has more than 85,000 travelers come through each year, Hainsey said. It employs, either directly or indirectly, 1,668 people.
There are 65 smaller, general aviation airports across Mississippi.
"These airports generate benefits that build the state's economy along with the non-aviation employers who rely on the airport system to support their daily business activities," said Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall.
In Mississippi, agriculture is the number one industry generating $7.5 billion annually and employing 29 percent of the state's workforce either directly or indirectly. There are about 42,400 farms covering 11.2 million acres across the state's 82 counties that rely on aircraft to apply fungicides and insecticides to cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans.
Hall said without airports and the services provided by aviators, the state's agriculture industry could suffer a severe blow to crops and ability to maximize their growth potential.
There are approximately 230 licensed agricultural aviation pilots, over 100 aerial applicator businesses and over 190 registered aircraft for agricultural purposes in Mississippi.
McGrath said the study also found that the airports facilitate emergency medical transport, provide support to law enforcement, conduct search-and-rescue operations, provide aerial surveying and support military operations.
Dispatch News Editor William Browning contributed to this report.