By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo Regional Airport could get its much sought-after three daily flights if a proposal by Mesaba Airlines gets federal approval.
On Wednesday, Mesaba Airlines, which currently provides air service in Tupelo, asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to review its bid. No timetable for a decision by DOT has been set.
Mesaba in July said it could no longer provide service in Tupelo and seven other cities across the country unless it received a federal subsidy through the Essential Air Service program. The company said providing air service in the cities was not financially feasible.
That move set off a series of events, including the DOT requiring Mesaba to continue flying and to ask for bids from airlines wishing to provide service through a subsidy.
Mesaba is a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines.
In one proposal in its EAS bid, Mesaba would have two daily departures from Tupelo to Memphis (at 7 a.m. and 4:40 p.m.) and one departure to Atlanta (10:30 a.m.). Arrivals from Memphis would land at 10:10 a.m. and 3:11 p.m., while one arrival from Atlanta would land at 8:45 p.m.
Those three daily flights would require a subsidy of more than $1.9 million.
Another proposed schedule would cut one Memphis flight on Saturdays, bringing the subsidy requirement to a little more than $1.8 million.
In another schedule, an additional flight on Wednesday would be cut, bringing the subsidy to more than $1.6 million.
Maintaining the current schedule – one daily flight to Memphis and one daily flight to Atlanta – would cost a little more than $1 million.
Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director and other airport and city officials have said they prefer to have three daily flights.
But Anderson said he was happy to see that one of the proposals does include that.
“I feel good about the direction of the negotiations,” he said, adding that details still had to be hammered out and that there was no guarantee that DOT would lean toward any direction.
When DOT will make its decision on which proposal it will choose is unclear, however. Other air service providers have been asked to submit bids, but it’s unknown if there are any others looking at Tupelo.
Mesaba President John Spanjers wrote in a letter to DOT that the company was reaffirming its “willingness to provide service” to Tupelo.
He also wrote that Mesaba and Delta plan to “transition to an all-jet regional aircraft fleet” and that the companyes would retire its Saab 340 aircraft within the next two to three years.
“Accordingly, Mesaba can commit to an EAS service contract only so long as it maintains Saab aircraft in its fleet.”
In other words, Mesaba is likely to be back to the negotiating table within three years.
But for now, Tupelo officials hope that DOT will choose a proposal that best suits the flying needs of the airport.
“We’ve got to have dependability, affordability and reliability,” Anderson has said repeatedly.
If the DOT chooses the proposal with three daily flights, boardings would not doubt increase at Tupelo Regional.
The airport’s three best years were from 2005 to 2007, when Mesaba and, for two years, ASA/Delta Connection, provided three or more daily flights.