Tupelo rejects air service bids

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Hoping to find an airline willing to provide suitable service to Atlanta, city and airport officials spurned the latest round of bids.
In a letter dated Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said, “We appreciate the interest of these airlines, but do not endorse or support these proposals for subsidized essential air service.”
Last month, four airlines – Air Choice One, SeaPort, Blue Sky and Sun Air – submitted bids to take over Delta Air Line’s air service.
Delta said last July it could no longer serve 24 small airports across the country. Included on the list were Tupelo, Greenville and Hattiesburg.
Delta gets EAS subsidies to fly in those cities. In Greenville, it receives $1.6 million a year; in Hattiesburg, nearly $1.4 million; and in Tupelo, more than $920,000.
The DOT has ordered Delta to continue serving those cities until a substitute carrier can be found. On Thursday, it extended the order through at least April 10.
The Essential Air Service program, administered through the Department of Transportation, provides subsidized air service in more than 150 communities nationwide, at a cost of $180 million annually.
In a letter to the DOT, Reed said the bids submitted by Air Choice One and SeaPort did not meet EAS requirements of providing twin-engine aircraft. Both airlines said they would use single-engine turboprop-propelled, nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravans.
Reed also said Blue Sky and Sun Air have not received their operating certificates from the DOT.
“Furthermore,” Reed wrote, “the level of service will be a great disadvantage to any airline and our airport without support from Delta Air Lines, through codeshare and joint-ticket pricing, allowing passengers to easily flow through the national airports system.”
The four airlines offering service essentially would be air taxis, ferrying passengers between Tupelo and Memphis and/or Atlanta. Passengers would have to buy separate tickets with a major airline to reach their final destination.
The airlines’ bids asked for EAS subsidies ranging from a little more than $1.7 million to more than $3.2 million annually.
Bids included a mix of links with other cities, including Greenville, Hattiesburg and Muscle Shoals, Ala. – which currently has a flight going through Tupelo with Delta.
But in the end, none of their bids were acceptable. And Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson hinted officials hope another airline will point them toward Atlanta.
“The Tupelo Airport Authority, mayor’s office and DOT have been working hard to solicit a suitable replacement for Delta,” he said. “I am hopeful that our efforts, combined with Hattiesburg, Greenville and Muscle Shoals, will result in dependable air service to Atlanta with an airline that wants to take care of our customers.”
In a similar move, Greenville also rejected bids from the same four airlines.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com