By STEVEN NALLEY
Golden Triangle Regional Airport served nearly 8,000 passengers during October, setting a monthly record that airport and economic development officials say is a sign of the region’s growing economy.
GTRA Executive Director Mike Hainsey said the airport saw 3,770 arrivals and 3,835 departures in October, an increase of more than 13 percent over October 2011. The total is the highest for any month the airport has seen in the past 10 years, he said.
The year as a whole has also been kind to GTRA, Hainsey said, with passengers rising six percent since January. He said the airport’s increased volume primarily results from local business growth.
“If you look at the last 10 years, because of the growth in companies — American Eurocopter, Severstal, Paccar – we have 2,000 additional jobs,” Hainsey said. “This area has been growing, even in a down economy.”
Hainsey said Mississippi State University remains the airport’s largest user, with students and faculty flying frequently, and tourism is also a factor, bolstered by travel to and from football games. The business travelers, he said, are largely international representatives traveling between headquarters overseas and branches in the region’s aerospace park. For instance, he said, Stark Aerospace is a subsidiary of an Israeli company, and Severstal is based in Russia.
“15 percent of our travelers are international travelers, which is double what an airport our size would normally have,” Hainsey said. “(Overall,) we’ve been steadily up ... 3-5 percent every year. We had a big jump in 2008; that had to do with a combination of new jobs plus some of the new agreements we had with Delta concerning prices and reliability of service.”
Jennifer Gregory, vice president for tourism development and chief operating officer with the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said GTRA is also beneficial for businesses in Starkville and other Golden Triangle area cities.
“Having the accessibility to a local airport that has the variety of flights and offerings that GTRA has is extremely beneficial to local business folks as well as in recruitment for economic development,” Gregory said. “Our friends in Lowndes County have seen great success with their aerospace park, and the proximity to the airport for those industries is pivotal in recruitment for employees, existing industry expansion and new industry.”
With the GSDP working with the Columbus-Lowndes Development LINK and other local organizations to form a tri-county Golden Triangle development authority in 2014, Gregory said a strong relationship with GTRA will be even more critical for Starkville in the future.
“The accessibility of travel really enhances our ability to showcase our community in a very time-efficient way,” Gregory said. “Aerospace research and technology (are), of course, our strategic industries to target in the Golden Triangle, and having an airport with the runway length and capabilities that ours has really enhances our ability to ... recruit additional industry.”
Hainsey said it is up to airlines whether GTRA books more flights to accommodate more demand, and airlines are facing a general decline, but GTRA is in discussion for additional flights. It will be some time before the airport itself expands again, he said, because it has already expanded in recent years in anticipation of growing demand.
“We’ve actually done that over the last three years,” Hainsey said. “We’ve expanded the terminal; we’ve lengthened the runway. We’re in good position for the next year or two.”