By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and Tupelo Airport Authority Chairman Ty Robinson said they’ll work to gain business and community support for Silver Airways’ bid to provide air service here.
Silver Airways, along with Air Choice One, submitted proposals to the U.S. Department of Transportation this week to replace Delta Air Lines.
“I am thrilled,” said Reed. “It’s even better than we had hoped for. We’re thankful for the work put in by (airport executive director) Josh Abramson and the airport authority to get us to this point.”
Silver’s bid – which must not only receive community approval but DOT approval – offers either 12 or 18 round-trip flights to Atlanta weekly aboard 34-passenger Saab 340 turboprops.
Air Choice is offering 24 round-trip flights to Memphis on an eight-seat Piper Navajo, an eight-seat Jetstream or a nine-seat Cessna Caravan.
In another option by Air Choice, it would use an 18-seat Jetstream in its second year of service. Robinson said he believes the public is more comfortable with larger aircraft.
“Plus, the Saab is something they’re familiar with,” he said. “Delta was flying them up until they switched them out late last year. I’m not downgrading Air Choice One at all or its planes. Personally, I like small planes. It’s not a safety issue at all. But I think it’s a comfort issue and I think most people are more comfortable with a bigger plane.”
Reed also said Silver’s pending interline agreement with Delta – allowing the airlines to share itineraries – is a major plus. In addition, Delta would handle the baggage. Atlanta also offers more options for air travelers, Reed said.
“We tried Memphis, but Delta cut the number of flights. … we think Atlanta is ideal, and Silver Airways will offer the reliability and fair pricing people want,” he said.
Both Silver and Air Choice hope to land a two-year contract with the DOT’s Essential Air Service program, which now pays Delta $1.6 million to provide service. Delta only is obligated to provide a minimum of 12 weekly round-trip flights to Memphis on its 50-passenger CRJs. Passenger boardings at Tupelo Regional through the end of March are down 23 percent compared to a year ago. The Transportation Department will accept public comments through May 1, and the airport has a link on its website at www.flytupelo.com.
Reed and Robinson said they have started soliciting business and community leaders to show their support for Silver’s proposal.