As of July 1, travelers can now fly from the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport directly to Houston, Texas, and the new offering is off to a brisk start, airport officials told the Forrest County Board of Supervisors Monday.
“We are going to Houston twice a day ... we’re back to two flights a day, and we’re on a 50-passenger jet,” said Tom Heanue, executive director of the airport. “People in the Pine Belt are traveling, and people in the Pine Belt are smart. They’re deciding to use their regional airport because the crowds aren’t so big. You do have to wear a mask if you go through the screening process and if you fly in the airplane, but we do have sanitizer out, and we’re cleaning the terminal constantly. People are wanting to use their airport.”
The Houston flights are offered through United Airlines. The airport previously offered flights to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, but American Airlines – which provided that service – eliminated service to 15 communities, including Hattiesburg-Laurel.
Heanue said travelers can expect to pay around $247 for a round trip to Houston, and the flights land at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
The executive director also informed supervisors that he did not need a budget increase this year because of increased federal funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These funds have paid for an extensive terminal renovation, he added.
“It includes a roof on the whole building, some new furniture, new air conditioning and some other stuff ... and that’s 100 percent paid for, so that wasn’t in my budget request this year for you,” said Heanue.
Heanue told supervisors that he is hopeful a distribution center will soon locate in the business park next to the airport. He said he is working with the Area Development Partnership and the other economic development agencies to find a suitable business to locate on the 400-acre site.
“We have a pretty good chance to get a distribution center this year, and that’d be great for our area and for that land,” he said. “We’ve been doing all the things we know, all the things that these consultants say to do ... to try and get in the mix.”
During the meeting, Heanue also returned $60,000 in county funds to supervisors, and he presented them with his annual budget request.
“My budget I turned in ... is $12,500 less than it was last year,” he said. “I know that, with COVID, you guys have been spending a lot of money on things that no one expected, so I hope all of these things I’ve done, and the board has helped me to do, helps y’all.”
The airport, located just off Interstate 59 between Hattiesburg and Laurel, serves 10 counties in south Mississippi.