Northwest expected to upgrade Tupelo air service

AUTHOR: MARTY

Northwest expected to upgrade Tupelo air service

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

Northwest Airlink has indicated it may soon begin service to Tupelo with larger aircraft and an Atlanta-based carrier that had earlier told the city it wasn’t interested in starting service in Tupelo has agreed to take a second look.

Jim Newman, marketing director for the Tupelo Airport, informed Airport Authority members Tuesday night that it appears Northwest Airlink, the city’s only carrier after American Eagle pulled out in January, may soon begin serving the city with larger planes.

“They told us that June 1 we need to start thinking about advertising and promotional plans to upgrade to a Saab 33-seater,” Newman said of a conversation with a Northwest official.

Northwest currently serves the airport with 19-seat aircraft.

The reason for the upgrade, Newman said, was the airport’s ability to show Northwest that it was losing passengers because they could not get back home.

Northwest has only one flight from its Memphis hub back into Tupelo at night. Because of the small, 19-seat planes, passengers attempting to get back to Tupelo on that night flight were often bumped and forced to rent a car to drive to Tupelo or stay overnight in Memphis.

By upgrading to the 33-seat planes, Newman said the airport was able to convince Northwest that more passengers might consider flying the airline out of Tupelo instead of driving to Memphis to catch a flight.

While Northwest has not officially announced the plane change, Newman said he expects that announcement this week.

ASA to take another look

Meanwhile the search continues for a replacement carrier for American. Atlantic Southeast Airlines, based in Atlanta with connections to Delta Air Lines, had been targeted by a consulting firm hired by the Tupelo Airport as the best choice to replace American. However, when Tupelo officials met with ASA in January, the airline said it had no planes available to start Tupelo service.

Tupelo has continued to keep in touch with ASA anyway, and Newman said he met with the company’s president during a recent Atlanta visit and was able to convince him to give Tupelo a second look.

“When I left he promised he would come over here and visit so we are preparing to bring him over here on a charter to get a firsthand education of what Tupelo has to offer,” Newman said.

No date has been set for the visit.

There was also a brief discussion at the Airport Authority meeting of forming a public/private partnership to start a local or regional airline with jet service to Atlanta and Dallas.

Newman said he believes the local market would support low-fare, jet service to those hubs and said he plans to pitch the idea to local development officials when he has more solid data to present.

Airport Manager Roger Blickensderfer said jet service is possible at the Tupelo facility without a control tower but that, if the service is started, he would recommend the city invest in an air traffic control system.

Other business

In other business Tuesday night, the Airport Authority:

– Postponed the unveiling of its updated master plan because the project manager could not attend the meeting. A special meeting to go over the plan was tentatively set for April 22.

– Approved the emergency purchase of a new fuel tank at a cost of $46,885 after it was determined that the old underground tank had begun rising out of the soil because of water underneath. If the tank had ruptured, it would have caused environmental problems and would also have left the facility without fuel for planes and military aircraft which also used the tank.

– Heard a request from the airport’s two rental car agencies, Hertz and Budget, to change their contracts so they only paid the airport a commission on vehicles rented by deplaning passengers. Both companies say they have experienced a decline in those types of rentals since service dropped to only one airline. Currently the companies pay commission to the airport on all vehicles rented at the facility whether by local residents or air travelers. The Airport Authority agreed to take the matter into consideration when the contracts are up for renewal in June.

– Heard a report on Northwest’s boardings for the month of March. During that period 941 passengers caught flights out of Tupelo compared to 852 the previous month.