Mississippi city not giving up on commercial passenger air service
Published 9:49 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2024
Natchez-Adams County Airport Executive Director Richard Nelson told a group of Natchez business and civic leaders to not give up hope for a regional airline flying in and out of Natchez.
“I know we have been talking about this for a year and a half and it’s still not here,” Nelson said. “The idea is not dead in the water. There will be one here at some point.”
Nelson was the speaker at the Rotary Club of Natchez meeting at the Carriage House on Wednesday and was introduced by Rotarian John McCullough, who is on the county’s airport commission.
“I am on weekly calls with about eight different airlines,” he said.
The good news is the airport is thriving financially, in part because of the new flight school operating there, as well as an increase in jet traffic. Those two things have led to an increase in the sale of aviation gas and jet fuel.
Revenue from the sale of aviation gas has increased by $150,000 in the last year. Jet fuel revenue sold at the airport has increased by $200,000 over the last year.
In addition, construction should begin in March on new hangars at the airport, which are in demand.
“We are moving in the right direction,” Nelson said. “We have a great base of tenants at the airport. When I came to work here, we had eight or 10 hangars that were vacant. We now have a waitlist of eight for a hangar.”
Since coming to work in Natchez from the Monroe, Louisiana, airport in October 2018, Nelson has helped secure nine grants valued at a total of $11 million, McCullough said.
“Most recently, the airport received an air service development grant worth $1.2 million to mitigate losses” a new air service here may experience during start-up, McCullough said. Nelson said a shortage of pilots nationwide is partly to blame for the slow-going search for an airline to locate here.
“We picked the worst time to try to bring an airline to Natchez,” he said, citing a shortage of an estimated 3,000 pilots now, causing canceled flights around the world.
“They are saying there will be a shortage of 30,000 pilots by 2032,” Nelson said.
The airport has changed consultants recently and has contracted with Volaire Aviation Consultants. A second study is under way, which is showing many of the same statistics a similar study showed about two years ago. The second study was necessary to provide fresh data in the search for an airline.
Should the county airport be successful in attracting a regional airline, flights to and from Natchez would likely originate from Houston or Dallas. And the flights would be under the auspices of a major airline, though a company like Sky West or Mesa Airlines would operate them.
That’s important because passengers departing Natchez would go through TSA security checks here and would have their baggage transferred to connecting flights, rather than having to be bussed to the airport’s terminal and go through security at that location.
Sky West, based in Utah, is very interested in operating in Natchez, Nelson said.
“They fly out of Hattiesburg and Meridian and it would be nothing to send a plane over to Natchez.”
In addition, Nelson said the new airport consultant is recommending the county target airlines that would operate 30-passenger planes out of Natchez, rather than the nine-passenger planes the airport had been seeking.
“We thought we would have no problem filling a nine-passenger plane,” he said. “But the consultant tells us it only costs about $400 more to operate the larger plane,” which passengers would likely be more comfortable flying in.
The Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport and the Meridian Regional Airport are served by Sky West with regional jets branded as United Airlines to Houston. The Meridian airport website has a press release from 2022 announcing Sky West’s decision to end service, although there were no updates on the website.