By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – In a move that was not unexpected, Silver Airways said Wednesday it is ending its service for Tupelo.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based airline, which has provided federally subsidized air service between Tupelo and Atlanta since October 2012, said the move was “part of its plan to strengthen operations, increase revenue, reduce costs, and better position the airline for future growth and other opportunities.”
Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson said Silver flights will continue, however.
“The next step is that the U.S. Department of Transportation will issue a hold-in-service order, which means Silver has to continue service until a suitable replacement is found,” he said.
Silver is cutting many of its routes to Atlanta and redeploying its aircraft and employees elsewhere. The announcement follows Silver’s move in February to exit the Cleveland market, which included DuBois, Bradford and Franklin in Pennsylvania as well as Jamestown, N.Y, and Parkersburg, W.Va.
Said Silver President and CEO Dave Pflieger in a statement, “While we have been privileged to be able to serve these cities from Atlanta for the past year-and-a-half, multiple factors have combined to make it economically impossible for us to continue flying in these markets. New federal regulations related to flight and duty limitations, as well as increased requirements related to new hire pilot certification, have had the unintended effect of creating a nationwide shortage of regional airline pilots. Those facts, coupled with significantly lower than expected passenger enplanements in most of our Atlanta-network cities have made it uneconomical for us to continue serving these communities.”
He used the same language when Silver announced it was leaving the Cleveland market.
Last year, boardings at Tupelo fell to 5,190, down from 8,232 the year before and 11,961 in 2011. Five years earlier, a record 31,334 boarding were recorded, but the airport also was served by two airlines.
By law, Silver provided a 90-day notice to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The move also means the eventual end of service to Greenville, Laurel/Hattiesburg, Meridian, and to Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Abramson said Silver will continue to fly its 12-flights-per-week schedule in Tupelo, and the airport will have a webpage dedicated to the process in which a new carrier will be selected.
Ironically, Silver was picked by the USDOT two years ago as a replacement for Delta Air Lines, when it announced in July 2011 it was ending service in 24 communities nationwide, including Tupelo, Greenville and Hattiesburg.
Silver received a two-year guaranteed subsidy totaling nearly $16.1 million to provide service to Tupelo (with a link to Greenville), Hattiesburg and Meridian. The Hattiesburg subsidy cost $2.97 million, while the Greenville-Tupelo subsidy cost $7.04 million. The DOT at the time also raised concerns about Silver’s higher subsidy but chose the airline anyway.
Silver began service in October 2012, taking over subsidized service from Delta. But Silver stumbled from the start, with a delayed service launch, website issues, flight delays and cancellations and an inability to code share with Delta as had been expected.
Abramson said DOT will announce a time frame for bids from airlines interested in providing service – the same procedure it followed when Delta made its announcement in 2011. Four airlines ultimately bid to provide service in Tupelo, with the finalists being Silver and Air Choice One.
Abramson said he expects some of the same airlines to bid for service again. He also is meeting with “six or seven” other airlines to gauge their interest.