EDITORIAL: Air service progress

Substantial progress reported Thursday on retaining commercial service at Tupelo Regional Airport boosts the business outlook for Northeast Mississippi and adds another layer of importance to making the right decision about lengthening the airport’s runway and providing continuing access via West Jackson Street.
Mesaba Aviation, Inc., which is owned by Delta Air Lines as a regional partner, has submitted three possible flight schedules to the federal Department of Transportation, with cost projections under EAS, including a flight to and from Atlanta.
Mesaba also says it and Delta expect to transition from the prop-driven Saab 340 airliners serving Tupelo to an all-jet regional fleet. That change would happen in three years or less, and it would require a renegotiation.
When jet service is the operating standard a longer runway to accommodate full passenger and fuel loads will become more important. The optimistic option requires planning for that service, and road infrastructure to match it.
Delta briefly provided jet service to and from Atlanta in the early stages of the Delta merger with Northwest Airlines, but that flight was discontinued because of profitability issues.
Delta has since set plans to discontinue all Tupelo service unless Essential Air Service financial subsidies, a federal program, are guaranteed.
Mesaba’s proposals to DOT range from a $1.06 million subsidy to $1.98 million. As many as 21 flights weekly could be in a package, but with options for fewer flights and reduced weekend frequency.
The congressional delegation – U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran – all have been working to retain commercial service. Wicker and Childers frequently commute from Tupelo to Washington. Childers, through a spokesman, said earlier in November that retaining commercial service was his highest immediate priority related to the Tupelo airport.
Tupelo city officials also have made EAS support a priority, and a group traveled to Washington after the Mesaba/Delta announcement that service would be continued to begin making the case for flight continuation.
The deadline for service is Dec. 14, but the negotiations point toward a strong possibility that some agreement can be reached.
Tupelo has had continuing commercial passenger service for more than 50 years.
Passenger service continuation, while more difficult financially, has a higher importance than ever because of a growing airport customer base.
The anticipated opening of the Toyota plant at Blue Springs likely would make additional opportunities for service necessary. No opening for the assembly plant has been set, but Gov. Barbour, who visited Japan earlier in the fall, remains confident that Toyota will build vehicles in Blue Springs.

NEMS Daily Journal

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