Mike Lewis is a Continental Airlines pilot who's lived in Gulfport the last 17 years. That's why he jumped at the opportunity to fly Continental's first 737 jet into his hometown. "I think it will be a very big boost," the pilot said. "I think it's something Gulfport has needed. And I'm proud to be part of it."
A ribbon cutting outside the aircraft was the culmination of months of marketing work between Continental and Beau Rivage. The airline will still fly three small planes into the coast. But once a day, a 737 will carry 104 passengers and their luggage between Gulfport and Houston.
Jason Reisinger represented Continental at the ribbon cutting. "This economy here is unique," Reisinger said. "We're going to capture that, and help this economy grow and continue to grow."
Just 10 years ago, the Gulfport airport didn't need its jetways, because it didn't have a single jet flying into it. Today it's a much different story. Five airlines schedule 16 jets in and out of this airport. And passenger counts that were once below 200,000 now approach the one million mark.
At the welcoming reception, Beau Rivage President Jeff Dahl said the Continental jet is an example of how tourism is expanding its wings. "We're trying to grow this into a premiere destination resort and convention destination," said Dahl. "And I think to have the connections to the west, it will open a whole market for us."
Because Captain Lewis normally flies larger planes, Continental's inaugural 737 flight was the only time he'll takeoff from his hometown. It was a moment he'll never forget. "I'm honored to have the privilege to do that," he said.
The Continental jet flies to Houston at 9:35 every morning. The 737 returns to the coast at 11:15 each night.