T-1 Jayhawks buzz as they leave the ground noisier than their small size suggests. Between the Air Force and Delta flights bound for Atlanta, the Golden Triangle Regional Airport's runway is a busy place.
The Jayhawks have been using GTRA since May while Columbus Air Force Base does construction on one of its three runways. Pilots of the modified business jets are students who will eventually be flying much larger cargo planes.
According to GTRA's Executive Director Mike Hainsey, the Air Force is getting the most out of the airport runway.
"They're the busiest Air Force base in the world," Hainsey said. "Right now, the Air Force has a significant pilot shortage. In fact, at the luncheon I was just at, the wing commander said they have to produce 100 more than they did last year. They didn't reduce their training load even though they're losing a third of their runway."
Hainsey said having the extra planes on the runaway meant something was always going on.
"There's an increase in the operation's tempo," Hainsey said. "There's not a quiet time like there used to be. The real challenge is for the air traffic controllers in our control towers."
Aside from the military, more commercial planes are taxing on GTR's runaway too. Delta added a fourth flight to Atlanta out of the airport on June 10.
Although the eventual goal is to have another airline come to GTR to fly west, Hainsey said the value of Delta adding a flight could not be overstated.
"Airlines are not adding more regional jets," Hainsey said. "So, for us to get this flight, we had to take it from somebody. Delta has 125 regional jets. That's all they're going to have for the next five years. So, to add a flight here meant that our market is doing better than someone else's."
In the first two weeks of running four flights out of GTR, 85% of seats have been filled. According to Hainsey, that number is very good and only inspires more confidence in the Golden Triangle market.
Airlines set the prices for flights, not airports. However, Hainsey said usually computers set prices until the date of the flight approaches. Then, airlines look at the market and determine the value of the remaining seats.
Hainsey said, in his experience, there is an ideal time to look at prices for flights.
"I normally tell people to start looking at fares about two to three months out," Hainsey said. "If you get a good one, take it. Once you're inside four to six weeks, you've got to book by then."
Hainsey said prices would remain fairly high at GTR due to the frequent flyers being sent on business trips.
"The average ticket price is high here because we're 80% a business market," Hainsey said. "So, in a business, if the boss says you need to be in Germany tomorrow, you're going to be in Germany tomorrow, whatever the price of the ticket is."
GTR is also renovating inside. Construction on a new terminal started last year, and Hainsey expects it to open near the end of July.
Smaller projects are also underway. The airport’s first floor public bathroom is being redone, and a new parking will be added soon.
A bigger project looming is the repaving of the runaway, all 8,000 feet of it. GTR will receive $3.2 million in grant money later this year for that purpose, which is 90% of the cost.
The SMART public transit system runs a shuttle out to every flight at GTR as well. Hainsey said the shuttle would wait on late flights and has been gaining popularity.
While times vary slightly, GTR typically has two flights before noon followed by one in the afternoon and another in the early evening.