Northwest normally would have flown nine flights a day with Delta flying 15 to 16 a day.
Northwest will start flying five a day on Saturday, he said, and Delta is expected to expand service.
What's not yet clear is how many people who were scheduled to fly are still going to want to visit the area.
"That uncertainty is going to cloud all the carriers' operations for a while," he said.
One growth area is ferrying relief and reconstruction workers flying in and out. And the cargo carried by the airlines also holds promise even if legions of conventioneers are still a ways off. Local business, which has always been a mainstay, is expected to return to the skies, too.
Prior to Katrina, the airport had 10 million passengers going in and out of the airport each year with 174 departures a day.
Williams estimates that by next year the passenger levels could reach a range of 6 million to 8 million passengers, and they may have 90 to 100 flights a day at the start of the year with 130 by the end of the year.
"I hope I'm wrong but I think it'll be a while before we get back to the 10 million number," said Williams. "Maybe in the 2007 timeframe."
One determining factor will be how many hotel rooms open up for visitors, the kind that come to drink Hurricanes, not repair their damage.
The few flights are already a lifeline for some.
For Serissa Marrero, the resumption of flights meant coming back home quickly.
Marrero and her two daughters, aged 2 and 4, were at the airport waiting to be picked up after the three had just flown in from Virginia Beach, Va. on a Delta flight. She paid for the $206 trip with a credit card provided by the Red Cross.
That money from the Red Cross and a debit card from FEMA made the difference so that she could fly, she said.
"That's what enabled me to get back down here," she said.
For travelers like Marrero, the flight in to New Orleans afforded a first look at Katrina's devastation of some of the neighborhoods in Jefferson Parish, near the airport.
"It was hard to see from the plane ... but when we got close, it was real bad," she said.
Before that stark sight, Marrero said that the flight home out of Virginia Beach meant that she at least got a glimpse of the ocean.
"I got to see the beach before I left. I got my wish," she said.
If the baggage claim area lacks signs of arrival, it still has the hallmarks of evacuation. Cots for workers are still set up in areas between the baggage carousels where the lights are still out to provide some darkness.
In a sign of normalcy nearby, Tracy Simmons was getting the area ready for business at the Budget rental-car counter. They're not taking reservations, she explained, but they are renting cars on a weekly basis for $459 to those who show up.
"We are glad to be back," she said.
So far, they'd had four customers during their first full day.
The orderly counter, however, does not mean that it's anything at all like business as usual for Simmons or anyone else.
Simmons, who had ridden out the storm with family members in the region, said that though the counter was intact, the other areas used by Budget at the airport were badly damaged by the storm.
She said they also still are missing four employees.
Hundreds of people have been forced to make travel changes in the week before the busy Labor Day holiday weekend.
Continental Airlines Inc. said Wednesday it plans to resume flights to New Orleans on Monday, and Southwest Airlines Inc. says it will announce a startup date in the next few days.
Ten days after Hurricane Katrina caused at least $40 million in damages to the airport, flights resumed with two flights by Northwest Airlines.