GROUP SET TO PITCH AIRPORT
By Marty Russell
Tupelo officials and their hired consultants will meet Wednesday in Atlanta with representatives of Atlantic Southeast Airlines in an attempt to lure the carrier to the city to replace departing American Eagle.
Jim Newman, who was named the airport’s full-time marketing director last week, also plans to meet with Northwest Airlines officials in Atlanta on Tuesday to discuss upgrading the airline’s Tupelo-to-Memphis service and possibly lowering fares.
American announced late last year that it would close down its service from Tupelo to its Nashville hub effective Jan. 31. The shutdown was blamed on American’s decision to scale back its Nashville operations.
Airport officials immediately launched a search for a replacement and hired Boston-based consulting firm SH&E to assist. In December, SH&E recommended the city target ASA, which is Delta Air Lines’ regional carrier out of Atlanta.
Wednesday was the earliest a meeting with ASA officials could be arranged and the local contingent, plus one or two SH&E representatives, will have to talk fast.
“We’re only going to have one hour with ASA,” said Airport Authority Chairman Bill Allen. “We’ve got to make real good strong use of the hour we’ve got.”
Making the presentation will be Allen, Newman, airport Director Roger Blickensderfer, Mayor Jack Marshall, Community Development Foundation President Harry Martin, Cooper Tire General Manager Bruce Smith and possibly Sam Fleming, director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The group planned to meet today with SH&E officials to go over its presentation.
Airport officials admit convincing ASA to open a terminal in Tupelo will be a tough sell and could involve guaranteeing the airline at least break-even revenue by way of a subsidy if boardings fail to generate enough revenue. But they remain optimistic.
“I think we’ve got better than a 50/50 chance,” Allen said.
Newman said, “There are some subtleties working in our favor.”
He said Delta was looking to increase boardings and, “The bottom line is they’ll have more revenue even if ASA is only marginal.”
ASA already provides service out of Columbus to both its Atlanta and Dallas hubs.
Tupelo airport officials had hoped to have a replacement for American by April but now concede that is unlikely.
“My biggest fear is that we’re going to be longer than April,” Allen said. “I think we’re going to be out an airline longer than that.”
While in Atlanta, Newman said he plans to meet Tuesday with Northwest officials in an effort to convince them to route larger planes into Tupelo and lower their fares out of Tupelo. Newman said he would like to see the current 19-seat Jet Stream aircraft replaced with the 30-seat Saab planes in Northwest’s fleet.