Tupelo delegation gets no promises on future air service
By Marty Russell
Members of a delegation from Tupelo that met with officials of Atlantic Southeast Airlines in Atlanta Wednesday said they received no commitments that the airline would begin service to Tupelo, but said they weren’t shown the door either.
A seven-member group from Tupelo met for about an hour Wednesday with three ASA officials, including the manager of scheduling and marketing. The airline was targeted by SH&E, a Boston-based consulting firm hired by the Tupelo Airport Authority in December.
The city is attempting to attract a new carrier to its airport to replace American Eagle, which is leaving Jan. 31 due to cutbacks in its Nashville operations. American’s departure leaves Tupelo with only one carrier, Northwest, with daily flights to its hub in Memphis.
“It was very cordial and we presented them with a great deal of information worked up by SH&E and stuff we’d done,” Bill Allen, Airport Authority chairman, said of Wednesday’s meeting with ASA. “We did not expect to get an answer (Wednesday), but we’ll follow up in three or four weeks and see if there’s anything else we can do.”
Allen said Tupelo Mayor Jack Marshall had also invited ASA officials to visit the city as a follow-up to Wednesday’s visit. Marshall said he thought the visit had changed the ASA officials’ perception of the city.
“They made the comment that they had to admit they were impressed with the growth of our area,” Marshall said. “They had in their minds another image of Tupelo, and I believe we changed that.”
Both Allen and the airport’s marketing director, Jim Newman, said they believed ASA was interested enough that the Airport Authority would await a final decision before pursuing another airline. But Allen said ASA officials did indicate the airline might not have enough aircraft to begin Tupelo service.
ASA already serves the Columbus airport with daily flights to its Atlanta and Dallas hubs. The airline is the regional carrier for Delta Air Lines.
“They did express concern about the availability of aircraft,” Allen said. “But they said they would take a look at our information and get back to us.”
Opening a dialogue
Also while in Atlanta, Newman met with Northwest officials in an attempt to get the airline to upgrade its Tupelo flights from 19-seat aircraft to 30-seat and to consider lowering its rates out of the city.
Again, Newman said the airline made no commitment but did indicate it was attempting to upgrade its aircraft, which could mean a larger plane serving Tupelo in the future.
“They’re down to about a half dozen (19-seat) Jet Streams and they’re trying to unload those and upgrade their service,” Newman said.
Tupelo is served by the Jet Stream aircraft.
Of the meeting, he said, “It was the first step in opening a dialogue. The next step will be to establish that same kind of relationship with Northwest in Minnesota.”
Minnesota is where Northwest’s parent company is headquartered.
Airport officials had hoped to have a replacement for American by the first of April, but Allen said that now appears unrealistic.
“It’s going to be a longer process than we had hoped,” he said. “I think we’re going to be without a little longer than we thought.”
Making the trip to Atlanta Wednesday to make the presentation to ASA were Allen, Newman, Marshall, Community Development Foundation President Harry Martin, Airport Manager Roger Blickensderfer, Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Sam Fleming and Cooper Tire General Manager Bruce Smith.