As U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R, Mississippi) flew into the Golden Triangle Regional Airport Friday morning, he saw an area full of economic development.
Fifty years ago, leaders in the Golden Triangle had a vision for a new means of transportation, a regional airport for travelers. Wicker said this airport not only gave citizens of Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties a place of navigation, but it created an area for businesses to thrive and build a strong economy.
“What did I fly over?” Wicker said. “Job opportunities for Mississippians, for Americans, that were envisioned by the people 50 years ago who said, ‘We’ll do this. We’ll do something worthy to be remembered.’”
The Golden Triangle Regional Airport celebrated its 50th anniversary Friday, with Wicker serving as the keynote speaker. Local, state and federal elected officials, along with members of the GTRA Board of Directors, the Mississippi Airports Association and other community members, gathered to commemorate the success of the airport.
GTRA Executive Director Mike Hainsey recounted the airport’s history, citing its founders’ vision for a regional airport larger than those in Columbus and Starkville. Families of several of the airport’s founders attended the event, including one of the three original commissioners of the airport, Stewart Vance, who Hainsey said was the largest proponent for the airport’s creation and was vital in not only its establishment but its prosperity as well.
“We’ve never done this for the airport,” Hainsey said. “We’ve never taken the opportunity to commemorate people who were responsible for what this airport does.”
Hainsey said three flights travel back and forth between GTRA and Atlanta every day, with around 1,500 flights a year. He said flight traffic is currently at about 85 percent what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Before Wicker represented Mississippi in Washington, he spent many hours driving back and forth from his hometown of Pontotoc to the Mississippi University for Women to visit his sister who was a student there. He also had his commissioning physical at Columbus Air Force Base. He said the time he has spent in this region has shown him what a thriving community the Golden Triangle is and having an airport of GTRA’s caliber is the lifeblood of the economy and essential to air service.
“Everybody around the world now that flies on Delta airlines or comes to this Golden Triangle Regional Airport knows about the Golden Triangle area,” Wicker said.
GTRA has partnered with Delta Air Lines for more than 20 years. Delta Senior Vice President of Airport Customer Service and Cargo Eric Phillips said transportation has a major impact on a region such as the Golden Triangle and is looking forward to the future between GTRA and Delta.
“In many ways the communities that comprise the Golden Triangle are showing us how prosperous that future will be,” Phillips said. “Just inside the airport, as we were going to lunch today, you can see how this region attracts and prospers growth from steel dynamics across the street to PACCAR down the road, to Aurora Flight Sciences right here next to the terminal.”
During his tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Wicker, along with Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott and Rep. Chip Pickering, worked to bring a contract tower to GTRA, which he said he was extremely proud of because it is typically harder to get federal money for a contract tower for smaller airports than larger ones. Those towers house air traffic controllers employed by private businesses.
Wicker said he will continue to work to bring new investments and expansions to the airport, just like the contract tower. He said with the passage of the new federal infrastructure bill, $15 billion will go to fund airports across the country, with Mississippi receiving $99 million for airport improvement projects.
“The funds are there, and the infrastructure is going to be available for this visionary leader and this visionary board that we have,” Wicker said. “I’m proud to be part of it. I’m proud to take suggestions from people on the ground here who know what they’re talking about and tell us in Washington what they need.”