Consultant predicts ‘uncertainty’ for Tupelo air service

TUPELO – Delta Air Lines is the only viable carrier for providing air service in Tupelo, a leading airline industry consultant said Tuesday.
Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, spoke to Tupelo Regional Airport, Community Development Foundation and other officials Thursday to give his outlook on the future of air service in Tupelo.
“There are reasons people aren’t flying out of Tupelo, and it has nothing to do with the economy here,” Boyd said.
Rather, the problems deal with the aviation industry itself, as well as an airline – Delta – that hasn’t done itself any favors, he said.
In July, Delta notified Tupelo and five other U.S. cities that it would discontinue air service after Oct. 12 unless it could receive a federal subsidy via the Essential Air Service program.
Delta provides a flight to Memphis and a flight to Atlanta out of Tupelo daily.
The Department of Transportation is accepting bids for companies to provide air service to Tupelo, and Delta has said it plans to offer a bid.
Airport officials have said the subsidy could be worth about $1 million or more annually. The EAS subsidy is reviewed every two years.
“In Tupelo, you can plan on uncertainty, surprises and unpleasantness” when it comes to future air service, Boyd said.
Despite its faults, Delta is the only viable airline for Tupelo, said Boyd. The remaining options are limited: no small independent airlines are left, and other large carriers like American, United and Southwest would have no interest – or capacity – in serving a small market like Tupelo, he said.
And Boyd expects that Delta will offer no more than the two daily flights it provides now.
“But two flights aren’t enough – you need three in Tupelo,” Boyd said.
Other, smaller airlines may bid to provide service, but passengers don’t like unknown brands, he advised.
“You don’t want any service other than one which is Delta-branded,” Boyd said. “If you get an independent operator, your service is dead.”
Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Terry Anderson noted that in 2002, the airport recorded some 16,000 boardings. Four years later, that number had doubled. But last year, that number dipped back to 16,000.
“Now we’re looking at about 12,000 boardings even with good numbers because of the limited flights we have,” Anderson said.
Anderson said the airport is capturing only about 15 percent of the market and Boyd noted that about 45,000 people fly out of Memphis from the Tupelo area.
“I’m not saying that Tupelo can or will get all 45,000, but it can get a good many of them if you have the service,” he said. “The more service you can get, the better off you are.”
Passengers want to be able to connect to other destinations and they want reliable service. Delta and Northwest Airlines, which merged with Delta last year, have failed to do that in the past, hampering the airport’s growth, Boyd said.
“Tupelo is not in this situation because of the local economy,” Boyd said. “You have a vibrant economy with 60,000 people who could be flying out of here.”
And without good air service, the future of economic growth and development will be hampered, he said.
“Let your congressman, your senators and the governor know about your situation,” Boyd said. “Get them to work for you.”

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal