Colleagues, family and friends of Golden Triangle Regional Airport Director Mike Hainsey gathered Tuesday afternoon at the airport to bid farewell to him at the tail end of a 19-year career.
“I use this term very sparingly in my life but to say that you’ve been a visionary for this airport, that’s probably an understatement,” Transportation Security Administration Assistant Federal Security Director for Law Enforcement Barry Whitehead said as he presented Hainsey with a certificate and a metal of excellence from the TSA.
Under Hainsey’s leadership, GTRA has grown to be the third largest airport in the state by passenger count as of 2019.
Immediately after Hainsey took over as GTRA director, the airport was dealt a major blow when Northwest Airlines discontinued its passenger service at the airport, cutting annual revenue by a third. Hainsey negotiated with Delta, reestablishing regular commercial flight service with a major carrier.
In the following years, Hainsey, with the help of his team, accomplished two major expansions, a runway extension and a close working relationship with Columbus Air Force Base, which makes up 70 percent of the airport’s business.
In an effort to foster that relationship, additional infrastructure has been added to help make GTRA a more viable resource for CAFB. “We’ve added on a control tower to help support their mission, several facilities and lengthen the runway, all to help support their mission. It’s a great partnership with the base,” Hainsey said.
The airport has served as a magnet for related economic development, with Airbus, Aurora Flight Sciences and Stark Aerospace all locating facilities near GTRA during Hainsey’s tenure.
“I have been so blessed in my life, starting with definitely my better half, Brenda,” Hainsey said to the crowd of about 30. “She has been there for me through my Air Force career, through ups and downs that life throws your way. And then throughout this time here. She is mad at me though. She’s always been mad at me because I can honestly say that every day in my life that I’ve gone to work I’ve looked forward to it.
“I talked about the past, now let’s talk about the future,” he added, referencing incoming executive director Matt Dowell. “Matt has been with us for nine years. He is the deputy director to the executive director. It’s a natural step. He knows the business. He’s a Mississippi guy.”
Dowell, 32, came to GTRA after obtaining a bachelor’s in aviation and a master’s in airport management from Delta State University.
He describes Hainsey as both his mentor and boss.
When asked about Dowell’s takeaways from his time working with Hainsey, he replied, “Integrity as well as honesty and then leadership when it comes to people. So, he’s really tried to make sure that what we call our airport family has been taken care of.”
Hainsey will remain in an advisory role to GTRA and to other airports. He is one of two community representatives for the defense community development council, a committee initiated by the governor.
“I still will work with some airports — do a little bit of consulting with some of the smaller airports because I have 19 years worth of experience that hopefully can help them out,” Hainsey said. “What happens out of the Air Force base is important to our country, it’s important to our community. And since I do have some experience in that area, supporting them, I’ll be very involved in that area.”