By NEMS Daily Journal
Congress, after five years of stalling and partisan gridlock, passed and President Obama has signed a three-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is the chief regulator of aviation in the United States and the allocator of most federal funds for airports, air service support and facilities improvements.
Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, and 1st District U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, all Republicans, voted for the conference report.
The Senate and House both voted in recent days to approve the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (HR. 658).
Issues of importance for Mississippi in the renewal include the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the Small Community Air Service Development Program and the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. EAS supports passenger air service at the Greenville, Hattiesburg/Laurel, Meridian and Tupelo airports.
Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said continuing the EAS subsidy would be helpful in Tupelo’s ongoing effort to secure adequate commercial service for the long term. Delta Air Lines has given notice that it does not want to continue service in Tupelo, but it must continue as part of EAS until a replacement airline is under contract.
Delta, which is a product of a merger between Delta and Northwest (formerly the carrier serving Tupelo) has been less than satisfactory. Delta has done nothing to help its own cause with Tupelo air travelers. It has steadily reduced service and the service, in the opinion of many passengers, has become unacceptably unreliable and overpriced.
Tupelo at one time sustained 30,000 enplanements per year, and the number in 2011 was 11,961.
Reed said reliable and competitive service can bring customers back to Tupelo Regional.
“Essential Air Service helps maintain passenger air service outside urban hubs, which can be an asset in promoting economic development,” Cochran said.
We hope Delta officials are listening to the senator’s expectations.
The conference report limits EAS to locations that average 10 or more enplanements a day, with certain exemptions. It also restricts EAS participation to currently-enrolled communities.
Scores of airports across Mississippi have received grants for many kinds of improvements.
Overall, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act has been written to facilitate more long-term aviation planning by the FAA. If FAA’s long-term planning does not include adequate incentives and hard-nosed encouragement of sustained service to small, exurban airports, the affected communities will be handed the short end of the development stick by the federal government.
Tupelo has made all the right moves to keep air service, but Delta’s interests in the Tupelo market diminish seemingly by the week.
Note to Readers: Voting on DJournal.com polls is currently available on the website version only.