By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – With only two flights a day leaving Tupelo Regional Airport, passenger traffic dropped sharply in 2009.
The 13,088 boardings last year were the fewest recorded since 1997, which saw 13,858 boardings. But both figures are better than the 10,975 posted in 1996.
Still, last year’s drop marks three straight years of declining boardings. Just four years ago, Tupelo Regional posted a record 31,000 boardings, when it had two airlines providing seven daily flights.
But ASA/Delta pulled out of Tupelo in January 2008, just as the recession was getting under way, and airline traffic has continued to fall.
And in July 2009, Mesaba Airlines, the lone carrier providing service in Tupelo, announced its intentions to pull out of Tupelo unless it received a federal subsidy to continue service.
Mesaba, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, has submitted a bid to get the subsidy through the Essential Air Service program. But the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the program, hasn’t made a decision on whether it will accept Mesaba’s bid.
After averaging about 1,200 boardings a month through July, Tupelo Regional saw boardings averaged 930 in the final five months of the year after Mesaba moved to two flights a day.
But in addition to falling passenger boardings, Tupelo Regional saw a 30 percent drop in fuel sales last year, as well as a 32 percent drop in rental car revenue.
Executive director search
Meanwhile, the Tupelo Airport Authority got an update from The Pace Group, which is conducting a search to find a new executive director for the airport.
The board voted to fire former director Terry Anderson last month.
However, the board went into executive session to talk about the search and authority Chairman Dan Kellum said he couldn’t comment on the progress of the search.