Gulfport — The inexpensive, regularly-scheduled jet service considered critical to filling all the new casino hotel rooms on the Coast won’t skip a beat due to the decision by Nations Air to replace Reno Air providing jet service to Atlanta and two locations in Florida.
After losing about $12 million in 1997, Reno Air decided to retrench back to its primary Nevada service markets and dropped service in Gulfport and elsewhere. Reno Air had been flying an average of 1,900 passengers between Gulfport and Atlanta, and 2,734 passengers per month between Gulfport and Florida. Coast casinos put up most of a $2 million trust fund to subsidize Reno Air entering the Coast market.
Nations Air, which is based in Atlanta, had provided charter flights to the Coast prior to the entry of Reno Air into the market in the spring of 1997.
“We’re very happy to be back,” said Mark McDonald, president of Nations Air. “We never wanted to leave. Our plans are to develop an operation in Gulfport that builds from one airplane to many more. I see Gulfport as a major part of our future development. It’s not going to be just a side operation that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.”
Nations Air will start service June 9, serving the same markets as Reno Air but not as frequently. There will be six flights per week to Tampa/St. Petersburg, and three flights per week to Atlanta, Ga., and Orlando, Fl. Flights will be as low as $49 one way. The cost of the Reno Air flights was $39 one way.
Initially, a Boeing 737 that seats 125 passengers will be used to serve Gulfport. A 727 that seats 152 is expected to replace the 737 within a month.
Mary Cracchiolo, director of communications for Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the jet service is crucial to developing the Coast as a destination travel resort.
“It is very important to Coast tourism,” Cracchiolo said. “Jet service and first-class hotel accommodations feed off of each other. As more hotel accommodations come on line, it gives carriers the ability to bring more people in to stay.”
Cracchiolo said it was difficult at first to get jets to serve the Coast market because there was a shortage of hotel rooms. But the Coast hotel room inventory has grown from 6,000 in 1992 to more than 11,000 today. That number is expected to increase to 15,000 rooms by the first quarter of 1999, which will represent nearly a three-fold increase in hotel rooms during the 1990s.
Casino hotel rooms are packaged with jet service and sold by the tour operator Casino Airlink. Reservations can be made by calling Casino Airlink at 1-888-546-2846.
Nations Air plans flights leaving at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Friday and Sunday to Atlanta, flights at 3 p.m. daily except Tuesday for St. Petersburg, and flights at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to Orlando.
Local tourism and development officials have also been meeting with other carriers about expanding service at the Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport and bringing in new service.