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Meridian Regional Airportchanges with the times

By Staff
CLOSE CHECK Tom Williams, left, manager of the Meridian Regional Airport, looks over security equipment with Sgt. Dan Talley, a member of the Mississippi National Guard. Security at all airports have dramatically increased in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Photo by Steve Swogetinsky / The Meridian Star.
By Steve Swogetinsky/regional editor
Jan. 6, 2002
Things have changed at the Meridian Regional Airport since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The airport loses Northwest Airlink in nine days. National Guardsmen patrol the site. And the fax machine constantly prints new security directives from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Immediately after the terrorist attacks, the airport parking lot was closed and travelers were sent to the old Delco Remy lot across the street. That practice ended Oct. 29, but security has remained tight.
Having National Guardsmen patrol the airport has improved more than just security, Williams said.
Northwest pulls out
As announced days after the terrorist attack, Northwest Airlink service to Memphis ends Jan. 15.
That leaves Atlantic Southeast Airlines, or ASA, as the sole air carrier for Meridian. ASA offers four daily flights to-and-from Atlanta and two daily flights to-and-from Dallas.
The airport has no plans to find another carrier at this point. Losing Northwest Airlink will hurt, but Williams pointed out that it represented about 26 percent of the passenger boardings in Meridian.
Airport boardings decrease
Airport boardings were up before Sept. 11. At the end of August, boardings had increased by 6.9 percent for the first eight months of the year when compared to the same time the previous year.
Airport records show that 22,489 people had boarded flights in Meridian from Jan. 1, 2001, to Aug. 31, 2001. For the same period in 2000, 21,043 people boarded flights here.
Northwest's business was up 25.4 percent at that point.
September 2001 numbers show boardings off 27.3 percent compared to the same month the previous year. October was down 22.8 percent, November was down 17.1 percent and December was down 10.3 percent.
For all of 2001, the total number of boardings stood at 29,108 down 1.5 percent from the previous year. Airport boardings usually average between 30,000 and 35,000 passengers a year.
Airport could move
The current Meridian airport terminal building was renovated in the early 1990s and is in good condition. However, new security regulations may require the building of a new one.
The major problem is the location. The building is within 150 feet of Highway 11. New security regulations, which were being developed before Sept. 11, will soon require that airports terminals be 300 feet away from major highways.
A consulting firm is nearly finished with a study which compares the costs of enlarging and renovating the current terminal to building another one.
Williams said a new airport building could cost around $11 million. Much of that cost would be born by the FAA, he said.
Williams said with the exception of building new roads and landing pads, the costs were about the same.

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