KILLEEN, Texas — It’s no secret the pandemic threw the travel industry off course. From state leaders closing their respective state’s borders to strict travel restrictions, people just weren’t flying.
However, travel picked back up since the onset of vaccines and now people are on their way once again.
“I travel a lot, but sometimes I travel by automobile, but I seldom fly out of Killeen,” said Leslie Mercer, a 40-year-old Killeen resident and retired Army veteran.
He was on his way to San Diego from the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport (GRK) but had to make a stop in Dallas for a connecting flight.
“I wish there were flights to other cities other than Houston and Dallas,” he said when thinking about the limited options the regional airport offers.
He told us he lives relatively close to GRK but admittedly said he usually takes the hour and a half drive to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport for one key reason.
"The price is a lot more reasonable than flying out of Killeen,” he said.
However, the airport is working on that.
In fact, Mike Wilson, the executive director of aviation for the city of Killeen, said the airport has received more than $17 million in federal grants, both from COVID-19 relief funding and others.
A new hangar is under construction as a company stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico is uprooting its operations to move to Killeen and a new flight route to Denver with United is in the works.
With the improvements in the works, the missing part is easy, Wilson said. More people need to utilize its services.
“The way to continue to grow this airport and to get more flights and keep prices lower is for the citizens in this area to use the airport,” he said.
While airports across the country continue to struggle, GFK isn’t doing so badly, in fact, it's quite the opposite.
“Our numbers are better than what they were pre-COVID,” Wilson said, “It's great to have, you know, going through what we did, but come through it and in the where we're at today. It's just a great thing. We’re one of the few airports in the country that’s doing better than we were before COVID hit.”
There are no signs of slowing down just yet either.
“It’s very convenient and it gives soldiers and anybody an opportunity to have easier access to get people from where they want to go to to the other place,” Mercer said.
Wilson said the amount of people going through TSA lines at the airport is up 7-10 percent more than operations back in 2019.