By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
Letters of support backing Silver Airways’ bid to provide air service in Tupelo continue to roll in from mayors, supervisors, airport officials and economic developers.
But no letter may be more important than Delta Air Lines’ to the U.S. Department of Transportation, as the federal agency determines if it will continue to subsidize commercial air service in Tupelo and several other cities.
The Essential Air Service program props up air service in some 150 small airports nationwide for about $180 million annually.
A Delta official wrote that the airline is willing to work with Silver.
Alexander Van der Bellen, managing director and associate general counsel for Delta, said the company “supports the EAS program and believes in the importance of providing small communities with reliable air service.”
If Silver is selected, Van der Bellen wrote, “Delta would be willing to work with Silver on developing an interline and ticketing arrangement, participation in our SkyMiles frequent flyer program, and booking capability on delta.com.”
Last year, Delta said it could no longer provide service profitably in several communities as it switched from 34-seat Saab turboprop aircraft to 50-seat regional jets. It has continued to provide service with EAS money.
Silver has proposed to operate air service from those cities to Atlanta.
The airline will use the same model Saab 340 turboprop aircraft Delta used.
Apparently, no special deals or considerations would be made, Delta said.
“Delta would make these programs available on standard commercial terms, which are at Silver’s discretion to accept and implement,” Van der Bellen wrote.
Also among the letters sent to Dennis DeVany, chief of the EAS and Domestic Analysis Division of the Transportation Department were missives from Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
“I believe the Silver air service proposals represent the best option for retaining our local air service long term and building up traffic so that government subsidies can eventually be reduced or eliminated,” Bryant wrote.
And David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Tupelo-based Community Development Foundation, wrote on behalf of its more than 1,200 members, “Since the merger of Northwest Airlines and Delta, we have witnessed the deterioration of air service and we are concerned for the well-being of our organization and clients without a suitable replacement for Delta.
“It is imperative that our area have a reliable airline at reasonable prices if we are to continue to use our local airport, and attract new businesses in our community.”
The Transportation Department hasn’t said when it will make its decision, but earlier this month it ordered Delta to continue providing service to all of its EAS communities through at least June 9.