Downturn makes a soft landing at airport

March 22, 2009

Neal Wagner -

 

The nation''s economic hardships last month seemed to catch up with growth at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, GTRA Executive Director Mike Hainsey announced during a Friday airport board meeting. 

 


However, impact to the airport was minimal when compared with other airports throughout the state, Hainsey was quick to explain. 

 


"Last month, our overall traffic was down 3 percent," Hainsey said. "But if you''ll look at the numbers from other airports in the state, you''ll see that number is still good. 

 


"Year to date, Gulfport is down 35 percent compared to last year. Tupelo is down about 33 percent and Hattiesburg is down 21 percent," Hainsey added. "Looking at the rest of the state, we are actually bucking the trend by staying relatively even." 

 


While Hainsey acknowledged traffic was slightly down, he pointed to several possible causes, including the national economy, canceled flights and competition with one of the busiest years in GTRA history. 

 


"It''s all the economy," Hainsey said. "However, our load factors were actually up to 66 percent from 55 percent in January. 

 


"Last year, we were so strong that we set some really high numbers to compete against," Hainsey added. "Also, keep in mind that we had to cancel four flights last month because of some severe weather." 

 


Because GTRA in May will begin offering flights to Memphis, the airport''s down numbers may soon change, said Hainsey.  

 


"I think our traffic loads will stay about even until May, and then increase some when we start flying to Memphis," Hainsey said. "The bottom line is that the airlines still made money on us last month. That''s a very good thing. 

 


"We didn''t grow last month, but we didn''t shrink nearly as much as some of the other places in the area," Hainsey added. "The airport is a mirror of its area''s economy. Because of that, I''m optimistic." 

 


In other business, the board: 

 


n Announced the airport may break ground on its terminal expansion by July. 

 


Airport officials are expected to present a final design for the terminal during the board''s April 17 meeting. Once the expansion is completed, the terminal will be able to seat about 150 people. 

 


n Made plans to complete a noise impact study to present to the Federal Aviation Administration before the airport moves forward with its runway extension project. 

 


"We just have to prove that airline noise won''t have an impact on the area," said Hainsey. "I don''t think it will be much a problem at all. 

 


"The runway expansion is hot right now, and I think this would be a perfect time to really get going on it," Hainsey added.