By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Providing air service in 23 cities in nine states and having 21 planes in its fleet, SeaPort Airlines is confident it can deliver on air service in Tupelo.
The Portland, Oregon-based SeaPort is proposing 12 weekly round-trip flights to Memphis and 18 round-trip flights to Nashville for a $2.5 million subsidy through the Essential Air Service program.
“We serve nine EAS cities, and we have never lost a renewal contract in them,” said Tim Sieber, the company’s executive vice president.
He did say that SeaPort voluntarily withdrew from Jonesboro, Arkansas, and will be leaving Jackson, Tennessee, and Athens, Georgia, because the business models didn’t work for them.
But the Mid-South is a strength of the company, which has a terminal presence in Memphis as well as in Memphis.
“We’ve done this before; we have a track record,”Sieber said. “This is not a quantum leap for us, unlike the other bidders.”
SeaPort would have a 30-day introductory rate of $39 one way for all seats to both locations as a “get-on-board” incentive.
“You can’t afford not to fly with us; take a flight to Nashville and come back and see if you like it,” Sieber said.
After the introductory rates, they would rise to $59-$79 to Memphis, with Nashville adding another $20 or so. A key aspect SeaPort is banking on is its participation in the Amadeus Altea reservation system. It was the first airline to sign on, followed by Southwest.
That allows SeaPort to work out interline agreements with a larger airline.
“It means you could check a bag in Tupelo all the way through to your next airline – Delta, Southwest, American, for example,” he said.
Sieber also said his airline believes in community involvement and would have a manager of community affairs stationed.
“We want to be your hometown airline,” he said. “We have to have boots on the ground.”
He said SeaPort’s bid for service is lower than the other airlines because of economy of scale. It’s a larger company with more resources. Sieber also said SeaPort won’t bid on communities where it doesn’t think it can succeed. Nor will it try to set up too-high expectations.
“We only make promises we’re confident we can deliver,” he said.
He declined to give a specific time for when SeaPort could begin service if selected, but indicated that if the decision is made by early August, service possibly could start as early as September.
Tupelo leaders have until Wednesday to make a recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson and Air Service Committee chairman Jim Newman said the decision boils down to Air Choice One, which made its presentation Tuesday, and SeaPort.