By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – For the fourth time since December, the U.S. Department of Transportation says it needs more time to decide how many flights Tupelo Regional Airport will have.
At least Tupelo isn’t alone. Airports in Alpena and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and International Falls, Minn., also have to wait a little longer.
The DOT said Monday that it was ordering Mesaba Airlines – a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines – to continue serving the cities through April 14. An extension ordered in February expires March 15.
Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. isn’t too concerned with yet another delay, saying he’d rather have a good decision made rather than a bad one made hastily.
“I’ve always been told patience and persistence pays off,” he said.
Mesaba said in July that it could no longer provide air service in eight cities, including Tupelo, unless it received a federal subsidy through the DOT’s Essential Air Service program.
Companies were invited to bid for service in those cities.
Mesaba and SeaPort Airlines submitted bids for Tupelo, but SeaPort was unable to receive enough support from city officials, who said they preferred Mesaba’s bid. In Mesaba’s bid are four proposals, ranging from about $1 million to almost $2 million.
Mesaba currently provides one daily flight to Memphis and one to Atlanta.
City and airport officials have told Mesaba they would like to get three daily flights.
Reed said he met with DOT and Delta officials last week and also spoke to U.S Rep. Travis Childers and U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.
He said once the airline and DOT work out the details, they’ll present the plan for the city to review.
“Our role is more of approval of what they’ll present to us,” he said. “It’s not a third-party negotiation as far as the subsidy goes – that’s between Delta and DOT. But we continue to push for three flights a day.”
The other four cities affected by Mesaba’s July decision now have service from SkyWest. The airline began service in Muskegon, Mich., and Paducah, Ky., on Feb. 11, and Eau Claire and Hanock/Houghton, Mich., on Feb. 28.