Delta adds flights to meet GTRA growth

Steve Rogers
Staff Writer

A record-breaking year gives way to another record-breaking month.

And it is followed by good news for Golden Triangle Regional Airport.

After seeing almost 50,000 passengers fly Delta and charter flights in 2018, the airport opened 2019 with a record January as 3,372 people flew Delta to Atlanta and another 407 took charters. The Delta numbers were 10 percent higher than any previous January. The charter numbers were among the highest ever for the month.

Overall, traffic was 9.44 percent ahead of January 2018, which was the previous record for the month.

And for all of last year, Delta passenger counts were up 9.37 percent from the previous year to 45,117 and charter loads were up 24.5 percent from the previous record to 3,600 for an overall increase of 10.6 percent.

With flights running at better than 90 percent capacity and ticket prices for many connections remaining low, Delta announced Saturday it is adding another flight each day and two on Saturdays between GTRA and Atlanta starting June 8.

The new flight means four options a day—6:30 and 11:01 a.m. and 1:42 and 4:06 p.m.

“They told us late last year it wasn’t a matter of if, it was just a matter of when. They have decided when,” GTRA Executive Director Mike Hainsey said of conversations with Delta. “The extra flight on Saturday was a good surprise.”

The additional flights are part of a long-term growth plan that still includes a hoped-for westbound connector to Dallas.

“We appreciate the efforts by Delta to help our growth, support the people in the Golden Triangle and meet the community’s needs. As the industry continues to grow and bring people to our area, we will strive to provide them the service they deserve,” Hainsey continued.

The additional flights won’t mean more jobs, but it will mean a shift in hours.

“A lot of the staff is part time so we’ll increase hours or possibly move them to full time. The same for Delta,” Hainsey explained.

“The opportunities at GTR are unlimited,” added airline consultant Mike Boyd, of the Boyd Group International. “This is just the beginning as the airlines recognize the growth potential for service at GTR.”

In the last two years, the airport has completed terminal, parking and runway renovations designed to improve comfort and convenience. The airport is in a unique situation, having four different consumer markets between Columbus Air Force Base and Mississippi State University, a burgeoning industrial base promoting business travel and traditional passenger market.

Business travelers, among the most lucrative for airlines, make up 80 percent of GTRA’s passenger base.

Delta’s decision also will help GTRA’s expanded marketing efforts into the Tuscaloosa area. It’s designed to attract flyers accustomed to flying from Birmingham who are now having to battle the closure of Interstate 20/59 from I-65 to Highway 280 through downtown Birmingham.

The 14-month closure for bridge replacement requires eastbound drivers to use the much longer – and now more congested – I-459 to access the airport on the east side of Birmingham.

“It’s two miles farther from Tuscaloosa to GTRA than to Birmingham, that’s all. And it’s much more convenient and easier,” Hainsey said of the market approach.

“I had a man from Tuscaloosa tell me the other day that he did the Birmingham drive once with the traffic and won’t do it again. He’s flying from here now,” the director described. “We think we have a significant growth opportunity, but we couldn’t do it without Delta’s help, without another flight. Everything was full.”