Tupelo airport boardings down

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Passenger boardings at Tupelo Regional Airport last year were at their lowest since 1996, but airport Executive Director Josh Abramson hopes that trend will reverse with a new carrier.
Today is the deadline for airlines to submit their proposals to provide service in Tupelo, where Delta Air Lines plans to leave as soon as a new carrier is selected. Last July, Delta said it could no longer service in 24 communities across the country because it was losing money even with federal subsidies.
The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered Delta to continue providing service in those communities until a replacement carrier is found.
Abramson said at least two airlines are expected to submit bids.
“We’ll have a new marketing program with a new carrier,” he said. “But we’re not going to put a lot of effort with a carrier who doesn’t want to provide air service.”
Indeed, Abramson said the drop in boardings falls a good deal on Delta’s shoulders, pointing to late and canceled flights that have frustrated the airport and passengers alike.
“We’ve got one flight that’s 80 percent on time, but 10 percent of the flights are canceled,” he said. “There’s another that’s 75 percent on time, but 25 percent of the flights are 30 minutes late. Another is 75 percent on time, but 25 percent are 45 minutes late. So service has been a big issue.
“Passengers want good, reliable air service, a sterile flight and ease of transferring through and getting to their destination.”
Last year’s 11,961 boardings were the lowest since 1996, when just under 11,000 were recorded. Boardings peaked in 2006 with 31,344 when both Northwest and Delta provided air service.
Among the 24 communities Delta said it wanted to leave were Tupelo, Greenville and Hattiesburg. Delta receives subsidies in each city through the Essential Air Service program. In Greenville, it receives $1.6 million a year; in Hattiesburg nearly $1.4 million; and in Tupelo, more than $920,000.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com