AirTran halting service at Gulfport-Biloxi (Updated 4 p.m.)

AirTran Airways will discontinue service to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport effective Jan. 5, the airline announced this afternoon.

The airline issued this statement: "It is an unfortunate but necessary decision to discontinue AirTran Airways¹ service to Gulfport-Biloxi. We have flown under a contract with the casinos since we began the market in 1999,since that is the bulk of the business flying into the market. The casinos have made the decision to operate without a contract for flying, and the market is just not financially viable for us without that support ­especially in today¹s volatile economic times. Therefore we will discontinue our service to the Gulfport-Biloxi airport effective January 5, 2009. We currently employ 14 crew members at the GPT station. They have done atremendous job there and will be afforded every opportunity to transfer within the company if they so choose."

Bruce Frallic, executive director of the airport, said AirTran makes up about 25 percent of scheduled traffic. "We will probably be able to backfill the majority of that within a month or two with charter passengers."

George P. Corchis Jr., president and chief operating officer of MGM Mirage's Mississippi Operations, said the casino has enjoyed a good relationship with the airline, but cannot continue to "subsideze" it.

"We have enjoyed working with AirTran since 1999, when daily non-stop scheduled service began in conjunction with the opening of Beau Rivage," he said in a statement. "For nearly 10 years we have subsidized the airline and in this economy, we simply can no longer afford to do it alone."

The Sun Herald follows this story in tomorrow's editions.