By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Perhaps the third time is the charm in Tupelo’s quest to find a replacement for Delta Air Lines.
After rejecting two earlier rounds of bidding by smaller airlines hoping to provide commercial service in Tupelo, city and airport officials might have an offer they like.
Air Choice One and Silver Airways turned in their bids, and Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson said he likes what he sees in Silver.
“It appears Silver has the better offer,” he said.
That better offer doesn’t mean more flights out of Tupelo. In fact, Silver’s two options are 12 roundtrip flights or 18 roundtrip flights, while Air Choice One is offering 24 roundtrip flights.
However, the biggest difference is that Silver is flying 34-passenger Saab 340 turboprop aircraft to Atlanta, while Air Choice is offering either an 8-seat Piper Navajo, an 8-seat Jetstream or a 9-seat Cessna Cessna Caravan to Memphis. In another option by Air Choice, it would use an 18-seat Jetstream in its second year of service.
Both airlines are hoping to land a two-year contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program, which now pays Delta $1.6 million to provide service.
Delta only is obligated to provide a minimum of 12 weekly roundtrip flights to Memphis on its 50-passenger CRJs.
The Transportation Department will accept public comments through May 1, and Abramson said he would begin working with city and airport officials on responses to both offers.
But, he thinks Silver is preferable.
After all, the airline is working on an interline agreement with Delta, which would allow the airlines to have connecting itineraries. Also, Delta would handle baggage handling for Silver. Finally, Silver also said it negotiating with Delta to participate in its SkyMiles program.
While the comments will be taken into consideration, it may boil down to economics.
The Essential Air Service program subsidizes service in some 150 airports nationwide for about $180 million annually. EAS communities in Mississippi include Greenville and Hattiesburg. And Congress has threatened to eliminate it all together.
Silver’s 18-roundtrip option would require a $4.5 million subsidy over two years, while its 12-roundtrip option asks for a little more than $3 million.
Air Choice One’s six options would require subsidies ranging from $3.4 million to $6.5 million over two years.
DOT says it will “formally solicit the communities’ views on any service options we receive before making a long-term, carrier-selection decision.”