HED: Northwest to bring in larger planes

AUTHOR: MARTY

HED: Northwest to bring in larger planes

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

Northwest Air Link in Tupelo will begin using larger aircraft on all of its Saturday flights and will upgrade its deicing capabilities to serve more and larger planes after a series of diversions last year that saw some of the company’s fleet rerouted to Tupelo from Memphis because of bad weather.

The announcements came at Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting of the airport authority.

Airport Manager Roger Blickensderfer said he had been informed by Northwest that the company intends to start using the larger, 33-seat Saab aircraft on its Saturday flights.

“Starting Saturday, those flights will all be Saab as opposed to a combination of Saab and Jet Stream,” Blickensderfer said.

In June 1996, Northwest started using the larger Saab aircraft on its final flight into Tupelo each Saturday. However, it had continued to use the smaller 19-seat Jet Streams on all other flights, including its first two Saturday flights.

The change to larger aircraft on Saturdays was in response to a situation in which passengers were sometimes bumped on that final flight because of overbooking on the 19-seat planes.

In addition to the larger planes, Northwest has announced that it will upgrade its deicing capabilities in Tupelo after at least two incidents last year that forced the company to divert flights away from Memphis to land in Tupelo because of bad weather at its Memphis hub.

While neither of those incidents involved icy weather, the additional deicing capabilities could come in handy if winter weather causes diversions.

The latest diversion occurred in late December 1996, when seven planes carrying 96 passengers were rerouted from Memphis to Tupelo because of fog at the Memphis airport.

Northwest is Tupelo’s sole air carrier since American Eagle left the city a year ago. In December, the airline boarded 750 passengers in Tupelo.

For the entire year, the airport saw 10,688 passengers catch flights while 10,460 deplaned in Tupelo.

“That’s 21,817 total passengers,” Blickensderfer pointed out. “That’s about two-thirds of population of Tupelo over the course of a year.”

In 1995, while American was still operating, the airport boarded a total of 18,229 passengers.

The airport still is seeking another carrier to serve the city and is working with Three Rivers Planning and Development District to secure another airline.

Joe Washington, the airport authority’s vice chairman who presided over Tuesday’s meeting, expressed concern that the authority was not doing enough to lure another carrier to the city.

Jim Newman, the airport’s marketing manager, said it would be relatively easy to get another carrier using small, 19-seat planes, but, he added, the airport is holding out for one using larger, 33-seat planes.

Blickensderfer also said the airport was not looking for just any carrier but a “low-fare, regional, nontraditional airline.”

Newman said negotiations possibly involving an alliance with another city for such an airline should be concluded by Jan. 28.