- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Boardings are down at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, officials said.

The Sun Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1rZ8c4l) Gulfport-Biloxi boarded 12 percent fewer passengers from January to July 2014 than it did in the same time period for 2013. Commercial airports in Jackson and Tupelo also saw decreases in air travelers.

Airport Executive Director Clay Williams said airline industry consolidation led to a 14 percent reduction in U.S. flights between 2007 and 2012.

“It’s hit smaller airports in a disproportionate fashion,” he said.

Smaller jets are less fuel efficient, with airlines charging higher fares to offset expenses.

On a brighter note, Williams said Delta Air Lines is using bigger jets - called mainline jets - at Gulfport-Biloxi. The airline is downsizing its fleet of smaller jets, which typically serve the Mississippi Coast.

Fares on the bigger Delta jets for service between Gulfport and Atlanta will be as low as $216.20 mid-week, Williams said.

To keep the service, Williams said, coast residents need to use the local airport rather than driving to New Orleans. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport captures 35 percent of the South Mississippi air travel market, he said.

Williams said he flew into Gulfport from a business trip Wednesday night on a Delta jet. Only about half of the seats were filled, he said.

Williams also said he continues to push for business support to offer subsidies that would bring in a low-cost carrier. The subsidies are the only way a low-fare carrier will return to the Gulfport-Biloxi market, he said. Until 2009, three Mississippi Coast casinos subsidized a low-cost carrier for service to the region.

He said other airports are bringing in low-cost carriers with a mix of incentives. Some provide a financial guarantee that seats will be filled, offset ground costs or supply marketing and advertising assistance for new service. Local businesses typically are involved in funding the incentives.

“Where does air service fit as a coastwide priority?” he asked. “If we want it, we’ve got to incentivize it.”

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Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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