By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – In about four months, passengers flying out of Tupelo Regional Airport will board some familiar planes – the Saab 340.
And they’ll also be flying to a different hub. Instead of Memphis, they’ll head to Atlanta.
Silver Airways was tapped by the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide service for Tupelo, Greenville and Hattiesburg-Laurel in Mississippi, as well as for Muscle Shoals, Ala., and Lewisburg, W.V.
Silver replaces Delta Air Lines, which last year said it was ending service from those communities to Memphis. The DOT, through its Essential Air Service program, had provided subsidies for Delta to continue service until a new carrier was found.
After two rounds of bidding, Silver was selected, and Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr., said he was “very excited.”
“It’s great news for Tupelo and our region,” he said. “It’s a win, win, win. We’re going to have a good-sized plane and 18 round-trip flights to Atlanta, where passengers can basically go anywhere in the world.”
The 34-passenger twin-engine Saab turboprops long served Tupelo and other smaller airports across the state via Northwest Airlines, and eventually Delta, which merged with Northwest a few years ago.
But Delta retired its Saab fleet and said using its larger jets was not economically feasible.
Enter Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Silver, formerly known as Gulfstream International Airlines. It has six Saab 340s in its fleet, providing service to the Bahamas from Florida. It is in the process of adding six more after reaching a deal with Saab Aircraft Leasing in March.
And they’ll need them
In its successful bid, Silver will provide 18 weekly round-trip flights between Tupelo and Atlanta – with a link with Greenville – and 12 weekly flights between Hattiesburg-Laurel and Atlanta. Silver also is providing 12 weekly flights between Muscle Shoals and Atlanta and 12 weekly flights between Lewisburg and Atlanta.
In its “all or nothing” proposal for service to all the cities, Silver will receive a two-year guaranteed subsidy totaling nearly $16.1 million. The Hattiesburg subsidy will cost $2.97 million, while the Greenville-Tupelo subsidy will cost $7.04 million.
The DOT selected Silver over Air Choice One, citing several reasons, including the communities’ unanimous support for Silver.
Also, DOT said, “Atlanta is not only the communities’ preferred hub airport, but also provides more connecting options to the national air transportation system than Air Choice One’s service to Memphis. Silver’s interline and baggage agreements with all major airlines, including an enhanced interline agreement with Delta, will enable the communities to reach their final destination with ease.”
DOT did note it was “very concerned” about Silver’s much-higher subsidy requirement than that offered by Air Choice One.