By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – For the third time since July, Tupelo is hoping to land the right airline to continue commercial air service.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation opened the process again for airlines to submit bids, with an April 10 deadline.
On two previous rounds, Tupelo – along with Hattiesburg, Greenville and Muscle Shoals, Ala., – has rejected air service bids offered by smaller carriers, hoping to grab Delta Air Lines’ subsidized service.
Delta said last July it could no longer serve 24 small airports across the country. Included on the list were the previously mentioned cities.
Delta receives a federal subsidy through the USDOT’s Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes service in about 150 communities nationwide for about $180 million.
In Greenville, Delta receives $1.6 million a year; in Hattiesburg, nearly $1.4 million; in Tupelo, more than $920,000, and in Muscle Shoals, more than $1.7 million.
All four cities want service on twin-engine aircraft. They can waive that right, but chose not to, so DOT rejected the last round of bids.
The previous bidders – including Air Choice One, SeaPort Airlines, Blue Sky and Sun Air – offered service on single-engine planes. Blue Sky said it would use Embraer regional jets, but, like Sun Air, has not received its operating certificate to do business as an airline.
Requirements for bids, according to DOT, include “service levels that are comparable with what the community currently receives, with service to Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville or any large or medium hub that offers access to the national air transportation system utilizing twin-engine aircraft.
“Specifically, for proposals with 15-seat or larger aircraft, the department expects proposals for three round trips each weekday and weekend (18 a week). For 30-seat or larger aircraft, we expect proposals for two round trips a day (12 a week).”
The department will accept bids from companies with eight- or nine-seat aircraft, with the caveat that they offer at least four round trips a day and the communities agree to having single-engine planes.
“As always,” the DOT said, “we will formally solicit the communities’ views on any service options we receive before making a long-term, carrier-selection decision.”
Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson said Delta has an airline it’s willing to support in the bid process, but it’s up to that airline to decide if it will submit a bid.
It also depends on the amount of subsidy the unnamed airline will ask for. In the last round, the bids ranged from about $1.7 million to more than $3.2 million annually.