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LOWNDES COUNTY, Miss. — When you are full, you are full… and that’s what’s happening at Golden Triangle Regional Airport.

After setting another record for passenger counts last year, the airport’s numbers are flattening out this year. That’s because Delta flights to Atlanta often are running at 90 percent or more capacity, which means there’s no more room.

So to grow, the airport has begun feeling out other airlines about service. The airport is applying for a $750,000 federal grant as an income guarantee to help an airline get service started. A similar grant several years ago help lure Northwest service to Memphis before Northwest and Delta merged.

“We recognize we definitely have a need for additional air service at GTR, especially for those travelers going to the west,” Airport Director Mike Hainsey said.

Some options would be American, United or Continental but the airport leaders would prefer service to Dallas rather than Houston because Dallas has better connections elsewhere and companies with operations in East Mississippi have more ties to the Dallas area.

With the airline industry in consolidation mode, airport leaders say they don’t expect serious movement on their efforts until next year.

And if the airport hopes to expand, larger planes could be part of the mix.

The airport is finishing up a $3.5 million project to widen and strengthen its taxiways to better handle those planes should the day come. Hainsey says it’s part of the airport’s effort to stay ahead of opportunities.

“By widening the taxiways, it allows us to bring larger airplanes such as the ones that come in for Mississippi State football and it gives us the extra safety margin that we really want to have,” he said.

Paving was completed Thursday and striping should begin Friday. The project began last fall and after some weather delays over the winter, should be completed next week.

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