Clay Williams THE SUN HERALD
How a Military Airfield Became a Thriving Airport
December 13, 2017
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  • The Mississippi Gulf Coast has a proud military history.

    From the military bases to the numerous defense contractors to the retirees who call the Coast their home, the military has played a tremendous role in shaping the very fabric of our community.

    Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport recognizes its origins as an Army Airfield in 1942 and celebrates its 75th Anniversary.

    With the outbreak of World War II, the US Government leased 1,200 acres of land from the City of Gulfport at the current location of the airport. The Army Airfield was established and trainees began to arrive in September of 1942. The airfield served as a training ground for crews of the B-29 Superfortress, B-17 Flying Fortress, and B-24 Liberator.

    fter WWII ended, the War Department in 1949 conveyed the airfield and the land to the city of Gulfport for the development of a civil airport. National Airlines and Southern Airways began the first passenger service from the airport in the 1950s.

    In 1953, the Mississippi National Guard also established training activities which have grown into the Combat Readiness Training Center — Battlefield Airman Center and Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group of today, preparing thousands of personnel annually at these facilities.

    Years later in 1977, the Cities of Gulfport and Biloxi, along with Harrison County, formed the Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport Authority.

    Since the formation of the Airport Authority, the airport has seen significant growth and improvements. The geographic footprint has expanded to nearly 1,600 acres and the physical plant has been increased and enhanced several times to where it stands today.

    The current terminal is a modern, convenient, easily accessible facility encompassing 160,000 square feet. Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport has seen the expansion of jet service over the years, offering the residents of South Mississippi convenient transportation access to destinations throughout the United States and beyond.

    In Fiscal Year 2017, the airport hosted 646,000 traveling passengers.

    The Airport Authority has endeavored to develop many traveler amenities including hotels, retail and dining options, an office park and business centers, as well as a variety of ground transportation options.

    The airport is currently served by five airlines, six car rental companies and numerous taxi providers along with the recent additions of Transportation Network Companies, Uber and Lyft. Two airport hotels, the Residence Inn by Marriott and the Hilton Garden Inn provide convenient overnight accommodations for the flying public.

    The airport campus has transformed over the years adding a modern state of the art air traffic control tower and Fixed Based Operator for General Aviation services, as well as a covered parking garage.

    Over hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the facility from both public and private sources. The airport and its 34 tenants have a significant annual economic impact of approximately $291 million on the local economy, employing 514 people. As the airport has grown commercially, transporting business and leisure travelers to and from our market, it has continued to enhance and strengthen its ties with the military.

    Nearly 47 percent of the operations at the airport are provided by the military and it continues to partner with the Combat Readiness Training Center daily. Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport is pleased with the success it has enjoyed and looks forward to a promising future made possible by the support of the great residents and businesses of South Mississippi. Here’s to 75 years of national and community service.

    Clay Williams is executive director of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.