By Dennis Seid
To get more commercial passengers flying out of Tupelo Regional Airport, officials are asking the airline that provides the service to provide fewer flights.
The request may seem strange, but airport executive director Josh Abramson said the move could improve reliability of Silver Airways, which has been providing service between Greenville, Tupelo and Atlanta since October 2012.
It’s been anything but a smooth ride, as passenger boardings in Tupelo fell to 5,331 last year, a 31 percent drop from a year earlier and the lowest total in at least 28 years.
“Due to Silver’s reliability issues, passenger traffic is extremely weak as reflected in our monthly boardings,” Abramson wrote in a letter to Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton.
Abramson said new regulations for commercial pilots requiring them to have more rest time between flights has stretched an already-thin piloted fleet in Silver. A reduced schedule – from 36 round-trip flights a week to 24 – would relieve Silver’s pilot.
“At this time, 24 reliable flights are a far greater benefit to the community than 36 unreliable flights.”
Shelton and Greenville Mayor John Cox have written letters to Silver requesting a reduction in flights.
But Abramson warns it is a merely a request, and Silver isn’t obliged to agree to it. “They’ve agreed to look at it this week,” Abramson said.
And there’s no guarantee a flight reduction will improve service, but Abramson said it’s worth taking a look.
In addition, any changes wouldn’t take effect immediately. They would likely take a few weeks to work their way through the system, Abramson said.
Shelton’s letter to Silver noted the airline’s $7 million annual subsidy, its initial issues in getting its service and its website launched and declining operational performance.
“This situation is not good for our two cities or for Silver Airways or for the taxpayers regarding subsidy expense,” he said.
The proposed new schedule would keep the overnight flight pairing that starts in Greenville early in the morning and returns to Greenville late in the evening.
The new schedule would operate only one midday round-trip flight on an Atlanta-Tupelo-Greenville-Tupelo-Atlanta routing. Service would be twice a day on that schedule Monday-Friday, with one trip on that routing each Sunday and Monday.