SeaPort proposes seven flights from Tupelo each day

TUPELO – SeaPort Airlines’ bid to provide subsidized air service in Tupelo includes more than double the number of flights and only half the cost offered by Mesaba Airlines.
But while frequency and price will be major considerations, other factors could determine which company eventually wins the contract to serve Tupelo Regional Airport.
And Mayor Jack Reed Jr. says Mesaba, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, is the better choice.
“We feel like if we get affordable, reliable service that will keep us connected to national and international destinations, it will work best through Delta,” Reed said.
The two companies are the only ones vying to obtain federal funds via the Essential Air Service program.
In July, Mesaba said it could no longer provide air service in Tupelo without the federal money.
The U.S. Department of Transportation required Mesaba to continue flying while it accepted bids from airlines interested in providing air service in Tupelo.
Mesaba currently has one daily flight to Memphis and one to Atlanta.
In its proposal package, Mesaba offered four scenarios, including its current schedule, which it says would require an annual subsidy of a little more than $1 million.
But airport and city officials, with the backing of U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, say Tupelo needs at least three daily flights.
Mesaba’s bid also includes a proposal with two daily flights to Memphis and one to Atlanta, with a total subsidy of $1.9 million.
SeaPort’s bid includes four Tupelo-to-Memphis departures daily for a $625,082 subsidy, and three Tupelo-to-Atlanta departures daily for a $433,006 subsidy.
Those figures are good for Dec. 15, 2009, to Dec. 14, 2010. Subsidized costs would be $631,681 for the Memphis connection and $413,797 for the Atlanta connection for the next year of service.
But unlike with Mesaba, passengers flying via SeaPort still would have to buy separate tickets through a major air carrier to reach their next destination.
In essence, SeaPort’s nine-seat Pilatus PC-12 plane is merely a shuttle, flying passengers to Memphis International and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta.
Passengers would then need to unload their luggage and check in as usual at the airport en route to their next destination.
They also would need to buy tickets from their airline of choice to reach that destination. It’s an extra step or two that may not provide the convenience fliers want.
And that’s why Reed said he preferred Mesaba’s bid.
Since Mesaba is a subsidiary of a major airline, passengers buy their tickets, check in at the airport and head to their next connection without having to handle their luggage until they reach their final destination.
Still, Reed said he appreciated SeaPort’s interest to provide service.
And SeaPort executives will be at the airport on Monday to explain why they think their bid should be picked.
In its bid to the DOT, the company said, “This service level will offer more than enough inventory to provide for the historical traffic of the last several years, while keeping capacity ‘right-sized’ and avoiding an unnecessary flooding of empty seats and resulting higher operating costs.”
SeaPort said its proposed schedule would “maximize traffic flow” and that traffic would increase during its second year of operations “as the speed and convenience of our service become more familiar to the residents.”
SeaPort provides EAS service in seven cities, including the Arkansas cities of Jonesboro, El Dorado, Hot Springs and Harrison, where it flies to Memphis.
A spokesman said those flights cost about $49 and that SeaPort is looking at that as a starting point for prices in Tupelo.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal