GULFPORT (WLOX) -- At a time when many airlines are looking carefully at their bottom line, one major carrier is bringing its business to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. U.S. Airways now offers non-stop service from the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina. The first flights came in Sunday.
On Monday, as the airport officials welcomed the new arrival, area leaders celebrated what U.S. Airways may bring to the community.
Just about all the speeches centered around economic development - the development already going on that lured U.S. Airways in, and the future development that some leaders believe will come our way now that the airline has landed in Gulfport.
The passengers landed, picked up their luggage and walked out of the Gullfport-Biloxi International Airport, all before 11 a.m. People in town on business, like Chida Barit, said that's the way they like to travel.
"You get started in the morning. You come here and work," said Barit.
U.S. Airways says the flight schedule has the business traveler in mind.
"You leave early in the morning at six o'clock. You leave midday around 11 o'clock and then the afternoon," said U.S. Airways executive Chuck Allen. "Then the return, which we think is very well timed for people to come from the north down to Gulfport, Biloxi."
There were more passengers wanting to take Monday morning's non-stop flight than were seats on the plane. Airline officials see that as a sign of the coast's growing economy.
Allen said, "If you take a look at your retail sales here, they're now exceeding pre-Katrina levels. You look at the building permits and the amount of money that's being committed to building new hotels and casinos here, clearly this area is growing and developing and we want to be part of it."
Local and state leaders believe once companies discover they can connect from Charlotte on to 120 destinations, they'll be more inclined to have a permanent presence down here.
Gulfport Mayor Brett Warr said, "If anybody wants to establish a corporate presence in the state of Mississippi, we want them to do it right here in Gulfport, Mississippi.
It's an investment now U.S. Airways thinks will be a big pay off later.
Allen said, "Yes. We are feeling the pinch from the high fuel prices like any other airline. We're well financed and well positioned as any airline in the industry today. So we looked at this and said, 'Let's go do this now. It makes sense for us.'"
U.S. Airways is offering three non-stop flights from Gulfport to Charlotte each day.