ASA SAYS NO THANKS TO TUPELO
By Marty Russell
The airline targeted as the best choice to replace American Eagle with service out of Tupelo has told city officials it does not have enough planes to serve the city’s airport.
On another front, however, the airport received some good news from Northwest Airlink that a rate reduction and larger aircraft are real possibilities in the near future.
Tupelo has only one carrier serving its airport, Northwest Air Link, after American Eagle pulled out in January citing the scaling back of its Nashville hub operations which had served the city since 1986.
In December, the Tupelo airport contracted with SH&E, a Boston-based consulting firm, to find a replacement for American. The consultants recommended Atlantic Southeast Airlines out of Atlanta with connections to Delta Air Lines. City and airport officials, as well as the consultants, met with ASA in January to try and convince the carrier to begin service from Tupelo to Atlanta.
However, airport officials learned Monday that ASA had declined the offer.
“We have been advised by Mr. John Beiser, president of ASA, that due to the unavailability of aircraft, it will be impossible for ASA to provide air service between Tupelo and Atlanta at this time,” said Airport Authority Chairman Bill Allen.
Jim Newman, the airport’s marketing director, had expressed some hope that ASA would begin service to Tupelo following the January meeting but said Monday, in retrospect, the odds were against the city.
“It was expected,” he said of the announcement that ASA would not be coming to Tupelo. “Walking in, when they say they don’t have enough planes, it doesn’t look very good.”
Despite ASA’s decision, both Allen and Newman said they would continue to pursue ASA.
“While an aircraft is unavailable today, six months from now the situation may change,” Allen said. “The commercial airline industry is very volatile and change is a daily occurrence.”
Newman said, “We’re going to be on them practically monthly letting them know we’re still here.”
In the meantime, Newman said he would be contacting other carriers for possible service to Tupelo. Contacts have already been made with TWA in St. Louis and Newman will be in Birmingham Wednesday to look over the operations of Gulf Stream Airlines, a Miami based carrier that recently began service to Atlanta out of Birmingham and Mobile.
Good news from Northwest
Another recent marketing trip may have netted Northwest Airlink’s customers in Tupelo a rate reduction. Airport officials have been lobbying the airline to lower fares as an incentive for travelers to use the Tupelo facility instead of driving to Memphis to catch flights.
Northwest uses Memphis as its regional hub.
“We talked about the rate differential and he said we should be able to get a $50 to $60 difference between us and Memphis,” Newman said after meeting with Northwest’s director of Airlink planning last week in Minneapolis.
That means fares out of Tupelo could be cut to that much less than out of Memphis. Currently, fares out of Tupelo can be as much as $200 higher than out of Memphis.
Newman said, if Northwest follows through with the lower rates, they should be in place very soon.
“I expect the fares to come down over the next two to three weeks,” he said.
Initially, the lower fares would be applied to the most popular destinations but Newman said travelers should let him know about other destinations and he will work to lower those fares also.
“If they’re going to New Mexico and it’s $300 more than out of Memphis then they should let me know,” he said. “We can’t sit down and do every city (immediately).”
Another possible improvement in Northwest’s Tupelo service could be larger aircraft. The carrier currently serves the city with 19-seat planes. But Newman said he was told those planes would be phased out as the leases run out in 1997. When that happens, Tupelo would likely be upgraded to larger, 30-seat aircraft.
Still more good news from Northwest Monday was that the airline and its pilots had reached a tentative agreement on contract talks that would avert a possible strike that could have left Tupelo with no commercial air service at all.
That announcement was made Monday by the company’s president, Mike Brady, although a final agreement has not been approved.