By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
Now that it appears there’s a palatable choice for commercial air service in Tupelo, what now? First, a refresher: Last week, two airlines submitted bids to take over the subsidized air service in Tupelo. Air Choice One – which twice before was rejected – and newcomer Silver Airways threw their hats in the ring.
City and airport leaders are leaning toward Silver because of its proposal to fly 34-passenger Saab 340 turboprops to Atlanta, versus Air Choice’s bid to fly smaller planes to Memphis.
Another issue in Silver’s favor: its reported interline agreement with Delta that would allow shared itineraries. Plus, Delta would supposedly handle the baggage for Silver.
Of course, we probably wouldn’t be here begging for service if Delta hadn’t informed Tupelo and 23 other cities across the country it was dropping air service because of economic reasons. Nor would we be here if Delta worked at keeping the service going. Another argument for another day.
By law, Delta is continuing air service through the Essential Air Service program, administered through the U.S. Department of Transportation. In Tupelo, Delta is getting an annual rate of $1.6 million to provide 12 weekly round-trip flights to Memphis International.
Reliability, dependability and affordability have been Delta’s Achilles’ heel for years, and nothing much has changed, with or without “free” money.
Tupelo – and those 23 other communities – can do better, and Air Choice and Silver think they can do it.
Let’s get this out of the way: Air Choice One isn’t going to get support from the city and airport. The company’s eight-passenger and nine-passenger planes might be OK for some, but the vast majority of flyers would prefer something bigger.
So that’s why the mayor and airport authority like Silver Airways.
But before we go all in with Silver, who exactly are we dealing with here?
Silver is the former Gulfstream International Airlines, which started operations in 1990. If you Google Silver Airways, you’ll be taken to the old Gulfstream website, which has been rebranded to Silver.
Gulfstream was founded by Thomas L. Cooper, who later sold his stake to Gulfstream International Group Inc. in 2006.
Cooper, by the way, is the man behind Air Choice One, the company making the other bid.
Small world, isn’t it?
Gulfstream International filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2010, but in May of last year, Victory Park Capital acquired its assets, including 21 of its Beechcraft 1900D aircraft.
Don’t let Chapter 11 scare you – many businesses have filed for bankruptcy protection and continued to do business. Some have survived, some have even thrived. And yes, some have died, too.
Anyway, last December, the former Gulfstream International Airlines was rebranded Silver Airways and began flying routes between Florida and the Bahamas. In January, Gainesville (Fla.) Regional Airport announced Silver would move its maintenance facilities from Ft. Lauderdale to Gainesville. Silver is supposed to start air service there this month.
Silver – which is headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale – now has six Saab 340s in its fleet and is using them for its Florida-to-Bahamas routes. Last month, it announced it had reached an agreement with Saab Aircraft Leasing to buy six additional Saab 340B plus aircraft for an undisclosed sum.
So, it appears Silver is good to go.
But, the all-or-nothing bid Silver made to Tupelo also is extended to several other airports, all of which must agree to go with Silver. If one balks, then down goes the deal.
So while Tupelo city and airport officials promote Silver here, let’s hope everyone else is on board, too. Or it’s back to square one.
Dennis Seid is the business editor at the Daily Journal. Reach him at email@example.com or (662) 678-1578.