Mesaba flights to continue through March

By Dennis Seid

TUPELO – The U.S. Department of Transportation needs more time to decide how many flights Tupelo Regional Airport will have, so Mesaba Airlines’ service obligation to the city has been extended.
Last month, DOT ordered Mesaba – a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines – to continue service in Tupelo and seven other cities through the end of the week.
Four of the cities are getting new carriers soon, but Tupelo and the other communities were told they had to wait a little longer.
Mesaba, on July 14, notified DOT of its intent to suspend service in Tupelo and seven other cities because the airline said it could no longer provide service without a federal subsidy.
But DOT ordered Mesaba to continue service through Nov. 12. Another extension was ordered through Jan. 13, but before that expired, DOT ordered another extension that would have expired on Friday.
Mesaba is looking to get a subsidy through the DOT’s Essential Air Service program.
It offered a bid with several different options to fly out of Tupelo, ranging from about $1 million to nearly $2 million.
Mesaba currently provides one daily flight to Memphis and one to Atlanta.
City and airport officials have told Mesaba they would like to get three daily flights.
Another airline, SeaPort Airlines, offered a bid but did not receive a letter of support from city officials.
While Tupelo doesn’t know which Mesaba option DOT chooses, four of the other seven cities will be served by SkyWest Airlines: Eau Claire, Wis.; Hancock/Haughton, Mich.; Muskegon, Mich.; and Paducah, Ky.
SkyWest will begin service in Muskegon and Paducah on Thursday and at Eau Claire and Hancock/Houghton on Feb. 28.
“At Muskegon and Paducah, we fully expect that SkyWest will begin service as planned, thus allowing Mesaba to suspend service,” read a letter signed by Todd Homan, director of the DOT’s Office of Aviation Analysis. “However, as an abundance of caution … we require Mesaba to provide the service levels to all eight communities … for an additional 30 days, through March 15, 2010, or until suitable replacement service actually begins, whichever comes first.”
Last year, Tupelo Regional recorded 13,088 boardings, down from 15,936 a year earlier. In 2006, when the airport had two carriers, a record 31,334 boardings were posted.
For January, the airport had 739 boardings, a 28 percent drop from a year earlier.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.