Group begins charter airline service in Tupelo
By Marty Russell
For the first time in almost a decade, residents of Northeast Mississippi can legally charter an airplane to take them just about anywhere they want to go.
While to the average citizen operating a charter service might seem as easy as operating a car or a limousine rental, the Federal Aviation Administration sees it differently, imposing strict regulations that charter operators must comply with to receive FAA approval.
For that reason, few in Northeast Mississippi have attempted to obtain the 135 certificate granted by the FAA to charter operators. Such operations existed in both Tupelo and Columbus in the mid-’80s but have since shut down.
But in December, Lee Enterprises and Tupelo Aero successfully completed FAA requirements and received clearance to begin a charter operation out of Tupelo using a six-passenger, twin-engine Piper Aerostar aircraft owned by Corinth resident Alan Lee.
“Technically, we’re the only on-demand charter operation in Northeast Mississippi,” said Aubie Pearman, the pilot and one of the operators of the charter service.
North Mississippi Medical Center’s helicopter service also has a 135 certificate, Pearman explained, but operates as an air ambulance instead of a charter service. There are about a dozen corporate aircraft based at the Tupelo Airport, but none of those are certified for charters.
Pearman said the owners of the operation saw a need for a charter service early last year even before it was announced that Tupelo was losing one of its commercial carriers. American Eagle is pulling out at the end of the month, leaving Tupelo with just one commercial carrier, Northwest.
In March, the charter group applied for a 135 certificate and spent most of the year jumping through the FAA hoops, including $30,000 worth of upgrades to the aircraft itself.
“Where this will really fill the need is when three or four people need to be somewhere and need to be back the same day,” Pearman said of the new service. “An ideal trip is one I made last week. Two people were going to Chicago and we could leave here and be in Chicago before they could get to Memphis.”
The casinos in Tunica are expected to be another popular destination. Pearman already has flown one charter. With the first of the biannual furniture markets set to begin in February, he hopes to capitalize on some of that travel business also.
“We’re working on that right now,” he said. “I feel sure we’ll do some stuff like going to Tunica.”
At $400 a round-trip without having to worry about flight schedules or delays, Pearman said such junkets are feasible, especially when the cost can be split by up to five passengers. The pilot counts as the sixth passenger.
The plane has a range of more than 1,000 miles or the capacity to make non-stops flights as far as El Paso, Texas, Pearman said.
Round-trip costs for frequent destinations, regardless of the number of passengers, are $600 to Nashville and $800 to Atlanta. The 135 certificate also qualifies the service to deliver cargo.
Pearman said the service is available 24 hours a day and even on short notice.
“The more lead time the better, but generally we’re on call all day every day,” he said.
To reach the service during normal business hours, call 844-9112. After hours, Pearman can be reached at 791-5027 or 489-8518 or Lee can be reached at 286-9399.