SeaPort wins over two Tupelo City Council members

TUPELO – After taking a SeaPort flight to Memphis on Saturday, at least two City Council members would like to give the airline a chance in Tupelo.
But their opinions may be too late.
SeaPort on Dec. 1 submitted a bid to provide airline service in Tupelo with the help of funds through the Essential Air Service Program, which is administered through the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The company is competing with Mesaba Airlines, which currently provides service in Tupelo.
The deadline for officials’ comments regarding Tupelo air service is Monday. DOT will make its choice shortly afterward.
While SeaPort’s bid came about a month after Mesaba’s, Ward 5 City Councilman Jonny Davis and Ward 6 City Councilman Mike Bryan said they see a place here for SeaPort.
“On a personal note, I think this is something good,” Bryan said. “We can always try it out for a year.”
SeaPort officials say that without any kind of support from Tupelo leaders, DOT automatically will eliminate SeaPort’s bid and pick Mesaba.
Bryan said Saturday he plans to work with City Council members on Monday to ask for a 30-day deadline extension from the Department of Transportation. Or, he said, it may be more appropriate for the City Council to ask the Tupelo Airport Authority board for an extension.
However, Mayor Jack Reed said Saturday afternoon that he had not heard about an extension, adding, “We’ll send in our response Monday.”

Thinking it over
Dan Kellum, chairman of the Tupelo Airport Authority, said he will talk with the mayor and the other authority board members and make a decision on Monday.
“Having reliable air service and something the public will support is something we’re looking for in our decision,” he said.
Kellum also was on SeaPort’s flight on Saturday. He listed many advantages for the company – good customer service, nice facilities, flexibility with flights – but he said the company faces a few problems, namely public perception of flying on a smaller plane.
SeaPort’s bid offers seven daily flights – four to Memphis, three to Atlanta – aboard its nine-passenger Pilatus PC-12 pressurized planes.
Mesaba, which currently offers one daily flight to Memphis and one to Atlanta, is offering four packages in its bid. The biggest package is two daily flights to Memphis and one to Atlanta aboard its 34-seat Saab 340 turboprop planes.
Kellum said another challenge for SeaPort is the change away from a recognized name like Delta, which is the parent company of Mesaba.
Ward 2 Councilman Fred Pitts, who also was on Saturday’s flight, said he is in favor of sticking with Mesaba.
“If we can have a national company here that would connect us to other parts of the country, I personally think that would be a good thing,” Pitts said.
Seaport currently acts more like a shuttle service and passengers would buy connecting tickets in Memphis or Atlanta.
Pitts, who is the City Council president, added that the council has not discussed the issue and that the comments from members who took the flight are “strictly individual preferences.”
“From my understanding, the Airport Authority runs our airport, patrols the airport and makes these decisions,” Pitts said.

Business Editor Dennis Seid contributed to this story. Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal