Air Service Summit Looks To Coast's Future

These commercial airline delegates represent a vital transportation link to the area's recovery and rebuilding efforts.

"We just began service here on December 15th with two flights a day to our Dallas/Fort Worth hub," says Michael Lum, Strategic Planning Manager for American Airlines.

They're here to see for themselves just how far along that struggle has taken South Mississippi.

"This has been a great market for us for years," says Amy Martin, a Network Analyst for Delta Airlines. "And we're committed to being here and getting people here for the rebuilding."

But they're also looking closely at the future economic possibilities in South Mississippi. They say that will determine the future growth or decline in air service at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

"Trying to understand the overall community," says Kevin Healy, Planning and Sales Vice President for AirTran Airways. "How that's going to change, the timing of it. When's the best opportunity to increase service in which markets that we really ought to be looking at going forward."

The delegates are part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Air Service Summit. It's a two day course on the history and the possibilities for this once thriving business, leisure and family destination.

Their education continued Wednesday at the Isle of Capri Casino with guest instructor, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

"We don't want you to come down here and do us a favor," Barbour tells the crowd. "Let me tell you, a bunch of money is going to get made down here."

Airport Director Bruce Frallic says the number of travelers is already back to Pre-Katrina levels, with one difference.

"Today we're 95 percent business and five percent on the leisure side," says Frallic.

Those are numbers Governor Barbour believes add up to a future worth investing in.

"All the indicators are huge growth, huge commitment, bigger and better than ever," says Barbour. "This is the place they're going to want to be."