Big news coming from Gulfport Biloxi International Airport. US Airways wants to show its customers what the gulf coast has to offer.
US Airways is the nation's fifth largest air carrier. Its announcement that Gulfport Biloxi International Airport is now on its schedule should give airport passenger counts another boost. Last year, more than 900,000 people flew in and out of Gulfport's airport.
Many of those passengers have met Steve Saunders. He's one of the people who rides around the airport in a shuttle cart.
"Need a ride maam?" he asked a woman who was with her child near the airport's parking lot.
Saunders' job is to carry airline passengers and their luggage from the parking lot to the new terminal's main entrance.
Business is so good these days, "We need two carts out here," the shuttle driver said, because one cart is no longer enough to handle the growing airport.
The airport is growing because of announcements like the one made in the terminal's lobby.
"We are delighted to be here," said US Airways Corporate Affairs Director Chuck Allen.
Starting May fourth, his airline will schedule three flights a day from Gulfport to its Charlotte, North Carolina hub. According to Allen, round trip flights were in the $400 range, if passengers purchase tickets at least 21 days in advance.
"This is a fantastic facility," Allen said. "We are delighted to be here, and we're glad to be bringing service here."
Before Katrina, Gulfport Biloxi International Airport had five carriers: Air Tran, Northwest, Delta, Continental and American Eagle. And they flew to just six cities. But as the airport expanded, and the coast started to put itself back together, air service took off.
US Airways is Gulfport Biloxi's ninth airline. It joins Allegiant Air, Skybus, and Myrtle Beach Direct Air as airlines that arrived on the coast since 2007 started. Passengers suddenly have non-stop access to 12 cities around the country, and hundreds of other connector cities around the world.
Tony Allen was out at the airport prior to the US Airways announcement.
"This is great. I mean this is fantastic, the way things are going here," the passenger said.
A short time later, the US Airways executive explained why, after several years of courting by Gulfport Biloxi International Airport leaders, his company was bringing 50 seat jets to the terminal.
"Clearly this area is a booming area and a growing area. And it's evidenced obviously by the success of the airport," he said.
One of the men doing most of the courting was Jim Pitts. The airport executive promised, "We're going to make sure it works and be successful."
And as long as the airport remains successful, Steve Saunders will be a very busy shuttle bus driver.
The sudden explosion of new air service is not a surprise. Airport executives expanded Gulfport Biloxi International Airport's terminal specifically to lure new airlines to the area. The new terminal will be officially unveiled on February 19th. And by Thanksgiving, the airport's new three story, 800 space parking garage should be erected.