By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – As expected, the U.S. Department of Transportation selected SeaPort Airlines to provide air service for Tupelo, following recommendations by the city and airport officials.
SeaPort begins its two-year contract once it determines when to launch its service in Tupelo. Officials hope it can begin in October, but details still are being worked out between SeaPort, outgoing provider Silver Airways, Tupelo Regional Airport and the Transportation Department.
Meanwhile, Greenville and Muscle Shoals, also hoping to get service through SeaPort, will be losing Silver service on Oct. 1. The two cities must wait on DOT’s decision in choosing an airline for their cities, which are in danger of losing service altogether because they haven’t met passenger number requirements.
As for the All-America City, Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson said, “We are excited that SeaPort will be providing air service to the community. I expect that SeaPort will let us know soon the start date and how they plan to phase in air service with each connecting city.”
Indeed, a modification in the service schedule may be made when it begins in Tupelo. While SeaPort’s bid included 18 nonstop round trips per week to Nashville and 12 round trips to Memphis, the airline may phase in its service by providing to a single city – either Memphis or Nashville – in the early going.
The Transportation Department selected SeaPort over Air Choice One’s proposal, awarding the Portland, Oregon-based carrier a two-year contract paying $2.5 million annually. SeaPort will use nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan planes.
“We expect Silver and SeaPort to work together to make a smooth transition at both communities,” DOT said in its order. “In that regard, before Silver suspends its service, we expect it to notify all passengers holding reservations for travel after the suspension date, to assist those passengers in making alternate air transportation arrangements, or to provide a refund of the ticket price, without penalty, if requested.”
Earlier this year, Silver said it would not seek to renew its air service contract in Tupelo, Greenville, Hattiesburg, Meridian and Muscle Shoals. Silver received an annual subsidy of more than $3.5 million during its time in Tupelo.
The Essential Air Service program, which provides the subsidized service to some 200 communities across the country, has suspended Greenville and Muscle Shoals from further service beyond Oct. 1 because they have not maintained an average of 10 boardings per service day. The cities are hoping for a waiver, however, to regain service.
“Their long-term status in the EAS program will not be known until the waiver process has concluded,” DOT said.