Airport growth a Katrina silver lining
Since Hurricane Katrina, the airport in Gulfport has undergone $200 million in
renovation work to improve, including a terminal twice as big as it was before the
devastating storm...

By Melissa Scallan
October 2015
Residents and business owners along the Mississippi Gulf Coast have been
rebuilding since Hurricane Katrina struck 10 years ago. Many say the area is better
than before the storm.

The same is true of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, a lifeline for South
Mississippi in the days after the storm. The airport often was the only way to bring in
food and other supplies to areas that couldn’t be reached any other way.

“We know the devastation Katrina wrought on the entire Gulf Coast,” said Clay
Williams, airport director. “We were glad to help in any way we could.”

The airport has undergone its own renovation and expansion in the decade since
Katrina, getting an infusion of $200 million in public and private monies to improve
and expand the airport along the Interstate 10 corridor between New Orleans and
Mobile.

“We’ve got a modern facility that has customer service as its first priority,” Williams
said.

The terminal has gone from 80,000 square feet to 160,000, added a multi-level
parking garage, two hotels and an office park across the street. Those additions
make this area more attractive to people traveling to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for
business.

The two hotels cost $52 million, and the parking garage $17 million.

John Hill Boulevard starts at U.S. 49 and winds through to the southwest part of the
general aviation area, which the airport also owns. The road is now four lanes, which
makes travel to that part of the airport much easier.

“Having that four-lane access into that portion of the airport creates opportunities for
us,” Williams said. “We have the potential for expansion there with warehouses.”

Part of the facility’s master plan, Williams said, is to move the commercial
infrastructure to that side of the airport. Other improvements include a state-of-the-
art air traffic control tower at a cost of $22 million and a corporate hangar operated
by Million Air. Williams said there also is land available for another smaller corporate
hangar.

Williams said airport officials work closely with officials at the Air National Guard,
which is adjacent to Gulfport-Biloxi International.

“It’s a very strong partnership we have with the ANG,” Williams said. “It’s good for
them to have a continuous operation there.”

On the southwest area of the airport, near John Hill Boulevard, there is a 40,000-
square-foot cargo area managed by Gateway America that has the only irradiator of
its type at an airport in the U.S. The company has agreements with companies in
various states.

For example, the company works with oyster producers in Mississippi and
surrounding states to irradiate oysters of Vibrio vulnificus. It also works with
companies to treat beef products.

Williams said this type of cargo area and machinery help form partnerships with other
entities.

“What works well with the cargo facility is its proximity to the state Port at Gulfport,” he
said.

Williams said he feels Gulfport-Biloxi International is in a good position on the Gulf
Coast to draw more commercial and recreational business.

“We’re working to sustain our air services, as well as look for opportunities to grow,”
he said.

The focus is customer service.

For example, the Transportation Security Administration in the past few months has
implemented the pre-check program, which helps passengers get through lines
quicker. The airport is constructing an eight-bay T-hangar to park smaller, private
planes.

“All of the development that’s taken place is centered around customer
convenience,” he said.

The Million Air facility has a Customs and Border Protection Office, which allows its
customers to take advantage of tax-free fuel.

“We’re well situated,” Williams said of the airport in Gulfport. “And I feel like the
activities we have here complement Stennis Airport (Kiln) and the Trent Lott Airport
(Moss Point). It all links well together.”

Currently, the marketing strategy encompasses the Mississippi Gulf Coast, north to
Hattiesburg and Laurel, west to St. Tammany Parish, La., and east to Mobile County
in Alabama.

In the past, residents along the Mississippi Coast would automatically book flights out
of New Orleans because it was less expensive, or at least they thought it was,
Williams said, but that has changed.

Gulfport-Biloxi International has rates that are competitive with New Orleans and
Mobile, Williams said.

“On average, we’re about $85 difference from New Orleans,” he said.

Williams encourages travelers to consider the cost of parking, which is higher in
other cities than at the Gulfport airport. Also, it’s more convenient to be at home
when the plane lands.

“When you think about the gas to get to another airport, the higher cost of parking
and the convenience of flying from home, we think it’s a better deal to fly from here,”
he said.

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