By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Comfortable as they are, at least to some flyers, the popular Saab 340 turboprop planes that ferry customers between many airports are being phased out.
In their place will be 50- and 70-seat regional jets, said Karen Zachary, Delta Air Lines’ manager of network and schedule planning.
“We are downsizing our smaller airplane fleet and we’re not renewing our Saab leases,” she said Thursday during the Mississippi Airport Association’s annual meeting being held at the BancorpSouth Conference Center. “We plan to phase them out by the third quarter of 2011. We have 49 of them now and we’ll be down to 23 by the end of the year.”
But don’t expect smaller markets, like Tupelo, to pick up the bigger jets.
That means passengers who will fly out of Tupelo Regional Airport will get the 50-seaters sometime next year.
It also means Delta will have to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Transportation about the subsidies it receives through the Essential Air Service program, which pays airlines money to provide service.
“We’ve been talking to DOT about our plans and they’re aware,” Zachary said.
EAS subsidies are granted for two-year periods. So, as Delta transitions its fleet from the turboprops to the jets, it will have to change its subsidy requirement.
For Tupelo, it’s still a waiting game as far as EAS goes. Last July, Delta said it could no longer provide air service here or eight other cities without the subsidy. On Tuesday, DOT extended for another 30 days its decision on which option it will choose for Tupelo and three other cities.
“We’ve given a couple of different options, but it’s up to DOT to decide,” Zachary said.
Delta now has one daily flight to Memphis and one to Atlanta from Tupelo. City and airport officials have lobbied to get three daily flights.