By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Fifteen round-trip flights a week from Tupelo Regional Airport simply isn’t enough, city and airport leaders say, but it’s what they’ll have to deal with.
Late last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it would pay Delta and its subsidiary Mesaba more than $921,000 through the Essential Air Service program to provide service from Tupelo.
The subsidy would start June 10 and run through May 31, 2012.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. met with Delta in Atlanta on Tuesday and a plan to appeal the funding decision was discussed. But further talks with DOT revealed that the federal agency would not be changing its decision.
The plan was deemed a “generous compromise” by DOT, Reed said.
City and airport officials had lobbied for 21 flights.
Reed on Tuesday met with Delta’s Karen Zachary, the airline’s network and scheduling manager, who indicated that an appeal would have been a long shot anyway.
“She said DOT is fed up with Delta’s offers for any more money,” he said.
Last summer, Delta said Mesaba could no longer fly out of Tupelo and eight other U.S. cities without a federal subsidy provided by EAS.
In October, DOT asked Delta to resubmit its proposal because of cost concerns.
Among its offers, Delta had said it could provide 19 round-trip weekly trips from Tupelo for $1.4 million, but DOT rejected the bid because it exceeded the level of service it thought Tupelo needed.
Currently, Delta has one daily flight to Memphis and one to Atlanta, both in the morning.
In March, Delta said it would add an afternoon flight to Memphis, starting June 10.
In an interview last week, Zachary said Delta would maintain that three-flight schedule “through the summer,” which means the two-flight schedule will resume sometime in August.
Reed said Zachary confirmed that schedule.
“She said Delta is still committed to that plan, even though they’re not getting a subsidy for that third flight,” he said.
Reed said the most acceptable schedule with 15 flights would be an early morning and a late afternoon-early evening flight each day to Memphis. The one “extra” flight would be a midday flight to Memphis, probably on Friday.
With that scenario, the direct connection to Atlanta will be eliminated in August.
But there could be a way to keep that Atlanta flight.
“I asked Karen if we could prove that we could fill the planes, if Delta might consider keeping that connection, and she said they would certainly look at it,” Reed said. “So, it’s up to the public to fly out of Tupelo as much as it can between now and August.”
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.