TheGulfport-Biloxi International Airport is taking off with the addition of two new air carriers, a parking garage, a rental car facility, a new general aviation center and the expansion of its terminals.
A press release in March 2004 stated that the project will also focus on four areas of expansion in the terminal complex – construction of new ground transportation access and traffic lanes, an expanded ticket counter lobby, an expanded baggage and passenger screening areas, and new baggage claim facilities.
New areas will also be provided for post security, food, beverage and gift concessions and a federal inspection facility for future international flights.
"The expansion will more than double the amount of passengers held annually," said Jim Pitts, director of marketing and business development at Gulfport-Biloxi.
Until recently, some visitors had to fly into New Orleans and either rent a car or take a shuttle to the casinos or beaches in the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Without a doubt, Gulfport-Biloxi is considerably smaller than Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, whose passenger traffic consists of 10 million. The airport is expected to handle about 940,000 passengers this year.
In 2003, Gulfport-Biloxi ended the year with a 7.7 percent growth for passenger traffic. Since it was close to having the maximum amount of passengers that could be accommodated at the airport, expansion was the next plan of action.
According to airport growth statistics, the number of passengers served increased by 51,531 over the 12 month period. In June 2003, the total was 819,587 passengers, which increased to 871,118 in June 2004.
The terminal capacity will be able to accommodate about 2.2 million passengers. It will expand from 92,000 square feet to 165,000 square feet. The air carriers will have 50 percent more area.
Pitts said the expansion will leave room for two new air carriers, but he does not know who the carriers will be. "We’re talking to several airlines," he said.
Currently, five airlines offer many non-stop and one-stop flights in the area. They are Air Tran, Atlantic Southeast Airlines (ASA)/Delta, Continental/Continental Express, and Northwest.
Air service is offered to major cities, such as Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, Houston and Memphis.
The expansion of the airport is what Pitts described as "an economic development engine."
In September, the Transportation Security Administration announced its addition of an explosives trace detection portal at the security checkpoint. Tourism, business, and economic development depend heavily on air transportation.
"It will improve the local travel community," Pitts said. "Local businesses will be expanded and new businesses will be developed."
Underdeveloped property around the area will also be developed. In addition, the expansion will generate close to 200 to 300 new jobs on airport property alone.
"It is an economic boom for the area because of the amount of jobs it’s creating, especially jobs for construction workers," Pitts said.
People will also be able to obtain jobs in security and food, beverage and gift concessions.
Gulfport-Biloxi is supported financially by Harrison County, City of Gulfport, and City of Biloxi. The three local entities had to approve the airport’s expansion.
"From the planning process to the first day of construction, it took two years," said Pitts.
The airport is coming out of its pockets to finance the project. Terminal expansion will cost close to $37 million.
With the additional costs of the parking garage, rental car facility and new general aviation center, the airport will spend a total $51 million for the project.
Pitts also estimated that the spin off from the expansion would generate more than $500 million in the city.
The airport is paying for the bulk of the project. It sold bonds to raise about $31 million.
Pitts said every passenger will pay a passenger facility charge to increase the revenue of the airport.
Political leaders in the Gulfport-Biloxi, Pitts said, are enthusiastic because there will be additional business for the community. An increase in sales tax will boost the economy, too.
Gulfport-Biloxi also shares its runways with the Air National Guard. It is 78 miles east of New Orleans.
When there are conventions or special events in New Orleans and all flights are full in the city, visitors and passengers can look to Gulfport-Biloxi for air service and car transportations.
Nearby accommodations include Fairfield Inn Gulfport, Days Inn Gulfport, Comfort Inn Gulfport, Hampton Inn Gulfport, Holiday Inn Express Sportsplex, and Village Premier Gulfport.
Starting December 1, 2004, Delta Connection carrier ASA will offer seven non-stop flights on three jets from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Atlanta.
Currently, the airport offers daily non-stop departures to the following cities: nine flights to Atlanta; one flight to Fort Lauderdale; five to Houston; three to Memphis; once a week to Orlando/Sanford, Fla.; one to St. Pete-Clearwater, Fla.; one to Tampa; two on Saturdays and three on Sundays to Dallas-Ft. Worth; and seasonally to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.