By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Passenger boardings at Tupelo Regional Airport last month rose by more than a third, to 889, compared to February.
But March’s boardings were still 20 percent fewer than a year earlier, and for the year, boardings are down 25 percent versus the first three months of 2009.
And April’s numbers might drop again. Delta switched its morning Tupelo-to-Memphis flight to the late afternoon on April 5, a move that will be reversed on May 1.
But until then, Tupelo Regional will offer a mid-morning flight to Atlanta and the after-5 p.m. flight to Memphis.
One frequent flier attended the Tupelo Airport Authority’s monthly meeting on Tuesday and said the schedule had made it difficult for her and her husband to fly out of Tupelo.
Even with the return of three daily flights to Tupelo in June, Carlene Ballieu said the schedule is “not terribly convenient.”
“The biggest problem is getting back home” to Tupelo, she said. The scarcity and timing of return flights to Tupelo Regional have forced her and her husband to fly out of Memphis, and Ballieu asked if the authority was talking to Delta.
“A lot of people like me want to use Tupelo, but can’t,” she said.
Authority Chairman Dan Kellum told Ballieu that he and Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. had spoken to Delta “numerous” times and shared similar concerns.
Another speaker at the meeting, Dr. Justin Graff, said he didn’t understand why fuel prices at the airport had risen more than 25 percent in recent weeks. The prices in Tupelo have been 80 cents more than prices at other area airports, and Graff said the pricing policy has chased off transient fliers.
Authority member Bo Gibens – who takes over as chairman next month – said the airport is trying to keep prices about 50 cents below retail cost, even though the fuel supplier recommends it sell it at only 20-30 cents below retail cost.
“I’m just wondering what the policies are and what the situation is,” Graff said. “Those other airports seem to be able to make it at their prices.”
After the meeting, Graff said he understands the need for the airport to pay for its fuel and other services, but said the big increase in fuel prices had made Tupelo noncompetitive.
“If I can save $60 somewhere else to fuel my plane, I’ll go there,” he said. “It may not seem like a lot, but it adds up.”