For the second straight year, Golden Triangle Regional Airport has set a record for passenger traffic, with 48,717 passengers boarding planes during 2018, an increase of 9 percent.
Throw in a 30-percent increase in charter flights, and passenger travel increased a robust 10 percent compared to 2017.
During that time, there hasn’t been an increase in the number of commercial flights out of the airport. Delta Airlines still operates three daily flights out of GTRA.
There aren’t more planes: They’re just fuller.
“In 2018, the occupancy rate was 92 percent,” said GTRA director Mike Hainsey. “There are several reasons for the increase in passengers, but the primary reason is our business climate. Although we haven’t had any new industry come in, so many of our existing industries are growing. They’re adding jobs and we’re seeing the result of that.”
Another factor, Hainsey said, is that competitive pricing and above-standard customer service are appealing to more and more non-business travelers.
“The pricing from Delta has really helped,” he said. “On average, the difference in cost between us and a flight out of Birmingham is $110. So when you consider the other costs associated with flying out of Birmingham, along with the convenience of flying out of GTRA, more and more people are choosing to fly from their local airport.”
While flying out of GTRA may not be cost-neutral, many passengers find other benefits, as well.
“The parking situation is far more convenient, for one thing,” Hainsey said. “There are also the wait times. Delta’s standard is 20 minutes for getting checked baggage to baggage claim. Our average is 13 minutes. Then there is delay time. The average for on-time flights is 83 percent. Our average is 85 to 87 percent.”
Another factor in the increase is GTRA is getting more traffic generated from Mississippi State, especially since 2016 when Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit (SMART) bus system began service to GTRA.
“Mississippi State has over 1,000 international students and we’ve seen an increase from students,” Hainsey said. “Having the SMART buses gives those students access to the airport they didn’t have before.”
Another MSU-related factor accounts for the increase in charter flight passengers — from 2,780 in 2017 to 3,600 last year.
“It used to be that smaller teams the come to play at Mississippi State, like a volleyball team, would fly on couple of business jets,” Hainsey said. “Now, they’re flying on larger jets which require flying into airports that have a higher certification. Teams that used to fly into the Starkville airport are now flying into here because we have the required level of certification that Starkville doesn’t have.”
All of those factors, Hainsey said, has provided GTRA with a niche that continues to grow traffic for the third busiest regional airport in the state, behind only Jackson an Gulfport/Biloxi.
“Put it all together and what you have is a hometown airport with global connections,” Hainsey said.
Hainsey said the airport will hold another drone seminar on Jan 15 at 6 p.m. at the GTRA meeting room located on the second floor of the airport. The free seminar will includes speakers from Mississippi State University, Columbus Air Force Base and the Federal Aviation Authority.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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