Mississippi’s Third District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, reports from Congress and about current happenings around the nation’s Capitol. Stuart Vance will introduce him.
Next Week: Rotary Foundation
The Rotary Foundation makes possible efforts to serve humanity. Larry Mullins, District Annual Giving Subcommittee chair, will explain its functions. Carey Hardin will introduce him.
For the Record—June 17
Invocation and Pledge: Larry Mullins
Present — 83 (31 exempt)
Absent — 95 (13 exempt, 11 honorary)
Guests: Visiting Rotarian was Jeremy Whitmore of Columbus. Member guests were Karen Walsh of Nancy Walsh and Trish Cunetto of Sandra Harpole. Guests of the Club were Giulia Martinoli and Kristina Berch, Youth Exchange students.
- President Debra noted a correction in the program listing for proposed new member Archie Anderson. He is president of Citizens Bank in Starkville.
- She announced a retirement reception for Ned Browning from 2-4 p.m on June 24, in the Cardwell Conference Room of MSU’s Lloyd-Ricks-Watson Building.
President Debra presented a check to Robert Leach for the Starkville Soccer Association. Leach noted support from the club singlehandedly helped the association light Rotary Field. Recently SSA hosted three tournaments, including events that attracted 85 teams, which had a major economic impact for the community.
Golden Triangle Regional Airport: Service and Plans for the Future
June 17 — “We’re here because we’re your hometown airport. If you are not treated well, then I’ll be upset if you don’t call.”
Mike Hainsey, Golden Triangle Regional Airport executive director for the past 10 years, shared recent trends and expressed future plans for the region’s airport. He noted how Stuart Vance and other community leaders were instrumental in developing the airport over 40 years ago. Leaders at the time realized no single community in the area could sustain an airport, but by banding together the area developed one of the first regional facilities. In fact, Hainsey said GTR is within one mile of being equidistant from Starkville, Columbus, and West Point, and it is located on the highest point in the prairie.
GTR continues to be successful, increasing passengers by 18 percent comparing April 2013 to one year ago. The airport now serves about 80,000 passengers a year and averages 87 percent full on all flights. Fuel price increases have caused airlines to streamline and consider all costs more thoroughly. Economic factors overall are leading to decreasing numbers of flights in general and increased fares in the airline industry.
Hainsey teased members by asking, “When is Southwest coming? They’re not.” However, he believes Delta will begin adding an additional daily flight soon at GTR and eventually bigger jets. Hainsey also feels there is a possibility that American Airlines could be added as a carrier to Dallas from GTR, which would remove the contradiction of flying east from the airport to Atlanta to go anywhere in the west. The new Yokohama tire plant in West Point could assist in this effort, since American Airlines has strong Asian markets.
Hainsey expressed that partnering with Columbus Air Force Base has been beneficial for both parties over many years. In addition, he and former GTR executive directors have held leadership positions at CAFB, which further strengthens organizational ties. He added that base closure discussions will continue, and area citizens should strive to support the base and GTR. There are 6,000 military retirees within 60 miles of CAFB. Two other bases in the country have the same mission as CAFB: one in Enid, Okla., and another in Del Rio, Texas. However, neither has access to a 12,000-foot runway.
In addition, having strong industries in the airport area has helped GTR tremendously. Success for American Eurocopter, Aurora Flight Sciences, PACCAR, and Severstal can only help to positively impact economic development in the entire Golden Triangle and also directly benefit airport traffic.
The airport has enjoyed $26 million worth of improvements in the last eight years, and, just this year, $3 million is being spent on taxiways and related enhancements. Most of these funds are allocated from the federal government, so there have been some delays recently. Future plans include a crossing runway to allow for airport growth.
Hainsey addressed the recent controversy over the possibility of the GTR control tower closing. He said that had this happened, it would have had a huge detrimental effect on the airport. However, the effort to save the tower was helped tremendously by having CAFB express to the federal government that the GTR tower was needed for its use as well and it was in the best interest of national defense to keep it open. The air base’s main runway is closed now, so it further relies on GTR as a partner airport. Hainsey also said there was an alternate plan to keep the tower open at GTR if necessary to avoid the negative effects closure would have had.
GTR is one of only three airports in the state now with primary air service, with others only in Jackson and Gulfport. Airports in Tupelo, Meridian, Greenville and Hattiesburg have recently lost jet service.
GTR and Delta have worked together to keep fares competitive, basing local fares on Birmingham rates and attempting to stay at no more than $100 higher per fare. Including driving time, Hainsey expressed it is normally cheaper for business leaders to fly from GTR and not drive to distant airports. Delta also recently announced Memphis no longer will be a Delta hub, which will reduce the number of direct flights to many locations. In addition, fares at GTR are only ten percent higher than five years ago, even though the 50-seat jet serving the airport is the most expensive to fly.
Matt Dowell, a Delta State University graduate, now serves as operations manager at the airport. Hainsey values this support and quipped, “I can go on vacation now.”
Editor’s note: Thanks to John Forde for covering last week’s meeting.