AirTran to cease flights in South Mississippi

By Elise Roberts - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Another major airline will soon end services in South Mississippi. Wednesday, Air Tran Airways announced it will soon discontinue flights in our area.

"Anytime there is a change in air service, it's kind of traumatic. The difficulty here was that the casinos couldn't get together with AirTran on their contract so they are announcing that they are going to end the service in January," says Airport Director Bruce Frallic.

AirTran came to the coast under a partnership with the Beau Rivage nearly ten years ago. The casino subsidized flights with the carrier. The Grand and the IP also jumped on board. But with the tough economy, all three are now backing out, leaving no choice but for AirTran to end services in South Mississippi.

"Anytime you subsidize an airline, you're talking about millions of dollars a year that you are writing a check for.

Airtran Airways employs 14 people out of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and all 14 are being offered other opportunities within the company.

"It's a sign of the times. It's a sign of the economic situation within the airline industry," says Richard Forester with the Harrison County Tourism Commission.

Forester says he's not surprised about the changes, and until things get better, the tourism commission will target a different kind traveler.

"There are a lot of changes coming for our industry and we are already gearing up to focus more on the drive-in market," Forester said.

He says more than 60 percent of people who visit South Mississippi drive. So until things take off in the airline industry, it looks as though South Mississippi will have to shift its focus.

AirTran Airways will end its services on January 5, 2009. Anyone with scheduled flights after that date should contact AirTran Airways.