By Dennis Seid | NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Four airlines submitted bids to provide commercial air service at Tupelo Regional, including two – Air Choice One and SeaPort Airlines – which have previously submitted bids that were rejected by the city.
The other two airlines are Blue Sky and Sun Air.
Meeting a Jan. 18 deadline, the companies hope to get a federal subsidy to provide air service through the Essential Air Service program, administered through the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Last July, Delta said it could no longer serve 24 small airports across the country. Included on the list were Tupelo, Greenville and Hattiesburg.
Delta gets EAS subsidies to fly in those cities. In Greenville, it receives $1.6 million a year; in Hattiesburg nearly $1.4 million; and in Tupelo, more than $920,000.
The DOT ordered Delta to continue serving those cities until a substitute carrier could be found.
Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson didn’t say outright that the new bids would be rejected by the Tupelo Airport Authority and the city, but said better bids were preferred.
“We would like to have better service than what’s been submitted and what we’ve had,” he said.
The lack of interline and codesharing flights are the biggest concerns. Without interline agreements, two separate tickets have to be issued, and passengers have to take their bags to their connecting airline for check-in.
Thus, the submitting airlines are little more than air taxis for passengers.
A look at the bids:
• SeaPort offers four options.
The first provides 18 weekly round trips to Memphis and six weekly round trips to Nashville. The proposed subsidy is $2,053,089
The second option has 12 weekly trips to Memphis and 12 to Nashville, with a subsidy of $1,706,297
The third, which is contingent on Greenville choosing SeaPort, has 18 trips to Nashville and 12 trips to New Orleans, via Greenville, with a subsidy of $1,976,099.
The fourth option, contingent on Hattiesburg selecting Seaport, offers the same number of Nashville and New Orleans flights, with a subsidy of $2,034,159
• Air Choice One’s bid offers 24 trips between Memphis and Tupelo. In addition, Air Choice has packaged its bid to include Greenville, Hattiesburg, Tupelo and Muscle Shoals together. In other words, its bid is good for all four airports, and not a separate service for each one. So, it would offer 24 connecting flights to Memphis in each of the four cities, at a total subsidy request of $6,542,907. If it gets a four-year agreement instead of a two-year agreement, Air Choice said it would reduce its subsidy request to $6,477,478 to service all four cities.
• Sun Air, like SeaPort and Air Choice One, will fly 9-passenger turboprop aircraft. While the other two fly Cessna Grand Caravans, Sun Air said it will fly Piper Chieftains. Sun Air submitted bids for Muscle Shoals, Greenville and Tupelo. Sun Air is offering several options, too.
In one option, Sun Air is offering 24 weekly roundtrips to Memphis, with four daily trips on weekdays and two daily trips on Saturday and Sunday. The s subsidy is $1,955,832. A second option adds more flights, with six weekday flights and three weekend flights daily, for a subsidy of $2,564,573. A third option, which takes out its bid for Muscle Shoals, uses the identical schedule in the first option for a subsidy of $2,069,768
However, Sun Air isn’t quite ready to fly. It submitted its air carrier application with the Department of Transportation in September, and Sun Air says, “the application is in its final stages of review.”
• The final bidder was Blue Sky Airlines, which offers the only regional jet – the 50-seat Embraer EJR145. It’s offering to use two of them in an “inseparable package,” providing air service for Greenville, Hattiesburg, Muscle Shoals and Tupelo, connecting them to Atlanta, Memphis and Nashville in three scenarios.
It would provide 13 weekly round trips this way via two weekday departures Monday through Friday, two Saturday departures and one Sunday departure for each of the four cities. To do that, Blue Sky says its subsidy request would be $2,822,574.
Blue Sky, however, has not received an operating certificate, Abramson said.