HATTIESBURG — The planes haven’t been the only thing soaring lately for the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport.
The modest aviation hub is projecting an increase in its total private revenue stream between fiscal year 2011 and 2012.
And that will mean a $40,000 decrease in the amount of revenue supplements airport officials will ask Forrest and Jones counties supervisors to allocate into the airport’s budget in the upcoming fiscal year.
“I personally appreciated Tom (Heanue’s) efforts in trying to hold his budget down,” said David Hogan, president of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors. “I hope that sets an example for the other departments because we are still in tough times.”
The board of supervisors will begin budget meetings for FY 2012 this summer.
Heanue, the airports’ executive director, recently presented the board with the airport terminal’s fiscal year 2012 budget.
The airport’s budget next fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1, shows a 0.10 percent increase over last year’s — $950,268 for FY 2012 compared to $949,287 in FY 2011.
According to the upcoming budget, private revenue will reach $395,100 — an 8.1 percent increase over FY 2011’s $365,300 projection.
“I also applaud his ability to spur private growth during this tough economy,” Hogan said about Heanue.
Heanue said the increase in private money is primarily due to the additional hangars the airport has installed since he took over as executive director in 2002.
“When I started here we had seven hangars and 27 based aircraft,” he said. “Now we’ve got 12 hangars and 60 based aircraft — and there’s room for more.”
The hangars generate revenue for the airport through rental and fuel fees for aircraft owners.
Heanue said the $20,000 reduction in funding from each county also is due to the reopening of the airport’s golf course, payouts for several bond debts that were used on capital improvements and securing a 50-passenger jet — being operated by Pinnacle Airlines — which he believes will help increase commercial airline traffic as well.
“If all things go well, we’re probably going to have one of our best Junes I’ve seen with boarding,” Heanue said.
This month, approximately 1,400 people have boarded the two flights that depart from the airport on a daily basis, Heanue said.
In calendar year 2009, 11,172 people boarded flights out of Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport, and in 2010 that number dipped slightly to 10,059, according to Heanue.
“This year, with the jet, it’s looking like we’ll see between (13,000) to 14,000 people,” he said.
Heanue said 10,000 is the “magic” number the airport likes to reach every calendar year to receive a $1 million entitlement from the federal government.
“You can spend that on airport improvements,” Heanue said.
Entitlement money the airport was awarded over the past two years will be used in FY 2012 to finance a major overhaul of the facility’s front exterior.
“We’re going to repair all the driveways, the parking lot out front and re-stripe the roads,” Heanue said. “We’re going to make the front of the terminal more ADA accessible and make some other improvements that will make loading and unloading smoother for passengers.”
The facelift will be the first major renovation the airport entrance has undergone since it was built in 1974, Heanue said.
The project will go out for bids next month.
“I have no control over airfare, but I do have control over making it easier for the passengers that use the airport,” Heanue said. “I’m hoping the (changes) will entice folks wanting to go to Jackson or Gulfport instead.”
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