South Mississippi's biggest commercial airport has soared to its greatest height. Gulfport Biloxi International Airport hosted a grand opening Tuesday for its expanded terminal. The $50 million investment is supposed to be a catalyst to bring more people back to the coast. The ceremony included several of the key figures who made the airport expansion a reality.
Just before the ribbon cutting started, a voice came over a loud speaker.
"Once again ladies and gentlemen, good morning and welcome to Northwest Airlines flight 393 with non stop service to Memphis," the agent said.
That flight was parked at gate six in Gulfport Biloxi International Airport's new terminal area.
"I can't believe they finally got it finished," said Joe Lamar.
He's one of the sky caps who works outside the complex. According to airport leaders, it took four years, 11 months, and one catastrophic hurricane to double the size of Gulfport Biloxi International Airport.
"It's better, much better," said Lamar.
That's especially true for passengers. The new airport has more room outside so passengers and their luggage can be dropped off without creating a traffic jam. It has more room inside so people can pick up their tickets and seat assignments without being trampled over. And just in time for the expansion's formal unveiling, the airport has a new food court.
Dave Wischmeyer was on the Northwest flight. Just before he boarded, the Michigan man commented on the changes at Gulfport's airport.
"It's really nice down here," the frequent coast visitor said.
Jim Pitts is the airport's marketing director.
"This was necessary for the growth of south Mississippi," he said.
Since the 2003 expansion first started, Gulfport Biloxi International Airport has added new airlines and new destinations to its daily schedule. The completion of the larger terminal simply brings the airport authority's long term plans into sharper focus.
"The building and the terminal and the whole operation is better than they ever dreamed it would be," Pitts said. "The building I think has really exceeded expectations."
Gulfport Biloxi International Airport currently has eight airlines that operate out of the terminal. And they fly to 11 cities. A ninth airline arrives in May, when U.S. Airways begins non-stop service to Charlotte, North Carolina.