High Fuel Costs Ground Some Airport Business; Ad Campaign Could Change That

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- First, Allegiant Air eliminated its Gulfport to Las Vegas flight. Then, American Eagle dropped its Saturday trip to Chicago. Now, Skybus is cutting one of its routes from its Gulfport schedule. Executives from all three companies say their decisions were based on low passenger counts, and extremely high gas prices.

The cost of gas is eating away at everybody's pocketbooks. It's getting tougher to fill up cars.  And it's becoming more expensive to fuel planes.  The higher gas prices soar, the harder it gets for Gulfport Biloxi International Airport to keep its fleet of passenger planes in the air.

Ricky Peleaz refuels planes on the Gulfport tarmac.

"Usually they'll take maybe 800 gallons to 1,000 gallons," to fuel a passenger jet he said.

And the current price for jet fuel is about $5.35 a gallon.

"It's not such a good thing and all anymore with the prices just jumping up like they have," he thought.

After fueling a Northwest plane, Peleaz waited for a Skybus flight from Greensboro to land. Just this week, Skybus executives announced that this flight was about to be pulled from its schedule, because fuel costs were through the roof, and ticket sales were lagging.

"The advanced bookings, it was kind of on the bubble," Jim Pitts admitted.

Pitts is the marketing director for Gulfport Biloxi International Airport. He's been told the last Skybus flight to Greensboro, NC is April 15. Because of that loss, and two other airline cancellations, airport leaders realize they need to do something to protect the air service they've built up over the last few months. So starting March 30, they'll run ad campaigns in Chicago, Columbus and Charlotte, hoping those ads will keep planes full of passengers, and full of fuel.

"What we have to do is let the markets, the new markets know that we have non-stop service to the Mississippi Gulf Coast," said Pitts.

And that service is fueled by vacationers, business travelers, and Ricky Peleaz's fuel truck.

"Like everybody we just wish that one of these days we could see falling gas prices," said Peleaz.

Gulfport isn't the only Mississippi airport struggling to keep its airlines. Delta just announced it was leaving Meridian, because fuel costs didn't justify the continuation of its flights to Atlanta.