By NEMS Daily Journal
Mayor Jack Reed on Monday told the U.S. Department of Transportation that Tupelo wants continuing passenger service with Mesaba Airlines (Delta) under the federal Essential Air Service program, and we believe that is an obvious best choice at Tupelo Regional Airport.
Reed – who made securing a federal commitment of EAS funding and air carrier adequacy a major goal when Mesaba announced in mid-2009 that it would end service in Tupelo – also strongly recommended adding an evening flight from Memphis to the existing Option 1 proposed by Mesaba/Delta. The Mesaba proposal would have three flights – two to-and-from Memphis during the day, with a morning departure to Atlanta, and an evening Atlanta return that overnights in Tupelo.
SeaPort Airlines, which flies a single-engine, nine-passenger airplane, entered the picture earlier this month with its own proposal to link Tupelo with Memphis and Atlanta. As of Monday afternoon, it had not received a necessary letter of approval from either the City Council or the Tupelo Airport Authority.
A strong preference has developed for Mesaba/Delta within the City Council and within the Tupelo Airport Authority.
SeaPort flies what’s generally regarded as good equipment, a Swiss-designed Pilatus aircraft, but we agree with reservations about perceptions associated with single-engine airplanes and concerns about the small seating capacity. Mesaba flies the 34-passenger Saab SF340 into and out of Tupelo.
We also support efforts to secure an evening arrival from Memphis, noting that the highest passenger-volume years in Tupelo had evening arrivals from the Delta hub in Memphis.
Reed also said he believes “we are on the cusp” of “restarting” work on the delayed Toyota assembly plant in Blue Springs. He called the plant “one of the world’s top economic development projects,” and linked its development and completion to higher passenger volume at Tupelo Regional.
Reed is correct in his assessment that one reason for a decline in passenger traffic at Tupelo Regional is decline in schedule reliability, which the 57-year-old mayor described as lower than at any other time in his adult life.
Approval for participation in the EAS program, a subsidy to help ensure profitability, comes with federal standards for timely departure and arrivals.
We believe that a strong, reliable schedule conveniently linking passengers to Memphis and Atlanta at peak connection times, with competitive pricing, can rebuild volume.
Regional airline service and regional airports, of course, will continue to face challenges. Those situations can be met with continuing progressive thinking and reassessment of the best options for Tupelo and the region.