SeaPort service could be ready by October

news_business_greenBy Dennis Seid
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Commercial air service in Tupelo could transition to SeaPort Airlines in 21⁄2 months, officials said.

“Our goal is to be there by October, subject to timing of the DOT award,” said SeaPort Executive Vice President Tim Sieber.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is tasked with picking which airline will provide subsidized service in the All-America City.

On Tuesday, the Tupelo Airport Board decided it wanted Portland, Oregon-based SeaPort to pick up the pieces of Silver Airways’ two-year run.

SeaPort’s $2.5 million bid provides 30 total flights to Memphis and Nashville per week. Its proposal was about $1 million lower than the other finalist, Air Choice One.

A letter recommending SeaPort was sent to the DOT on Wednesday, the deadline for submitting comments.

Greenville and Muscle Shoals, Alabama – which also has been served by Silver – have recommended SeaPort as well, and that may factor in the federal agency’s decision-making.

As for service from Silver, it has been ordered to provide service at least through Aug. 7, and could be ordered to continue it until SeaPort is in place.

Abramson said passengers who bought tickets through Silver don’t need to worry.

“We’ll know when the transition date to SeaPort will be, and Silver tickets will no longer be sold,” he said. Tickets purchased beyond that date will be refunded.

“People will get their money back,” Abramson said.

Abramson and SeaPort spoke Wednesday about some of the details of the pending transition. For example, will the airline use its own employees, or will it use airport employees to run its counter?

“SeaPort has typically brought in its own employees,” Abramson said, “though we have talked about our capabilities at the airport.”

He said the most critical factor was that SeaPort establish itself as a community partner, not just a brand setting up shop in the city.

“I told them they need to become a part of the community and become a local business,” Abramson said. “The people of Tupelo like dealing with other Tupelo businesses, and that’s what SeaPort has to become.”

SeaPort has said it would have a community relations manager to work with each city, and Abramson said it was important that passengers have a name and face they can talk to.

Sieber said its manager of community affairs “is a national position, supported locally by our station managers. This person coordinates relationships with the chamber of commerce, responds to donation requests, coordinates our participation in local events and festivals, and meets with key generators of demand for air travel in the region. … We’re honored that Tupelo has put their trust in us to restore confidence at the local airport. We won’t let the community down and look forward to earning the moniker ‘Tupelo’s Hometown Airline.’”

The airport board had wondered aloud if more flights to Nashville were possible if demand was greater than flights to Memphis. The airline is limited to what it can do in its bid, but there is room for flexibility, Sieber said.

“We have a long history of changing service patterns in response to community requests,” he said. “We will monitor the performance of the Memphis route closely and if adjustments are needed we will work with the community and USDOT to make the changes.”