By NEMS Daily Journal
The alliance and unanimity of four airports – Tupelo, Greenville, Laurel/Hattiesburg and Muscle Shoals, Ala. – tipped the scales in assuring continuing passenger air service by Silver Airways, partially subsidized by the federal Essential Air Service program of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Conveyed in official letters to the cities, airport directors and congressional delegations, EAS guarantees at least 24 months of continuous service by Silver Airways, which will replace Delta Air Lines and its subsidiaries in all four cities. Delta’s decision was part of a nationwide pullback of service to similar cities.
Tupelo Regional Airport executive Josh Abramson said the 18 non-stop flights guaranteed weekly from Tupelo to Atlanta will improve passengers’ options, choices, lower prices, and increase the number of flights by 50 percent.
Greenville and Tupelo are linked in the plan to be implemented within 120 days by Silver, a successor to Gulfstream International Airways. Abramson said a Greenville-Tupelo-Atlanta linkage empowered the 18-flight schedule because it is required to handle the anticipated traffic of the two airports.
U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, both Republicans who sometimes use the Tupelo airport, issued a joint statement.
“I would like to thank local officials in Tupelo, Greenville, Laurel, and Hattiesburg, for their hard work throughout this process,” said Wicker. “Cooperation was critical to this decision.”
“The selection of an Essential Air Service carrier is critical for maintaining viable passenger service at regional airports in Mississippi,” Cochran commented.
Both had supported a three-year extension of EAS earlier this year.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is among the world’s busiest hubs, and a passenger flying from Tupelo can arrive at almost any nationwide or worldwide destination routing through Atlanta.
Becoming an Atlanta connection, while not everyone’s first choice, will provide better and more affordable service, both Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and Abramson said.
Tupelo’s peak passenger count, about 31,000, happened when Northwest Airlines flew the Saab 340 turboprop aircraft to Memphis and Delta flew regional jets to Atlanta, but most of the passengers were on the Saabs, a 34-seat twin-engine airplane.
“This new service means we all will need to try again to fly from Tupelo. The passengers who used to fly out of Tupelo are still out there, and this is our chance to bring them back,” Reed said.
A steep passenger decline paralleled the drop in flights when Delta merged with Northwest and de-emphasized its small-city service.
Regular, reliable, affordable passenger service fits Tupelo’s economic model; Silver Airways opens a new route to meet expectations.