EDITORIAL: Air service for Tupelo

Members of the Tupelo Airport Authority, civic leaders and a representative of City Hall heard a candid and sobering assessment of Tupelo’s commercial air service prospects from a longtime aviation business consultant last week, and his plain-spoken outlook points to a comprehensive offensive to keep Delta Air Lines at Tupelo Regional Airport.
Delta gave notice earlier in the summer that it would end service to Tupelo and eight other cities because of profitability issues, but a federal program, Essential Air Service, could provide subsidies that would persuade Delta, or another carrier, to serve the city.
Mike Boyd, who heads Boyd International Group out of Denver, told the meeting in the Community Development Foundation boardroom that Tupelo must call in all the influence it can muster, beginning with Gov. Barbour and the congressional delegation in both parties.
He indicated it could be helpful that Sen. Roger Wicker and 1st District Rep. Travis Childers both regularly use the Tupelo airport for their Washington commute.
Barbour, Boyd said, should be urged to work directly with Delta and the U.S. Department of Transportation because of his well known connections in government and the private sector.
Boyd also said a “confluence of events” in the economy and with Delta’s internal decisions, not Tupelo’s economic strength, caused a weakening market at Tupelo Regional.
“There’s plenty of traffic here if they would put the right equipment in service” on at least three flights daily. Memphis and Atlanta remain the logical connectors, but especially Memphis because so many Tupelo and regional travelers use the airport annually.
Boyd said consistent minimal add-ons to fly from Tupelo could cut into the 45,000 people he said bypass Tupelo every year and drive to Memphis.
Boyd said Tupelo should consider itself on a “war” footing in keeping air service, demanding reliability, attention to consumer preferences, and on-time service.
Tupelo Regional executive director Terry Anderson said work would begin immediately to push the strategy Boyd described. A complex of deadlines kicks in, beginning Aug. 31, with a cutoff of service originally set for Oct. 12.
We believe a well-coordinated effort, especially with bipartisan help from political leaders in Jackson and Washington, can get the necessary message to the right people at Delta and in the Department of Transportation, which administers the EAS program.
The necessity of Delta service is its hub airport connectivity to the whole world through Memphis and Atlanta.
“Raise hell,” Boyd said, to drive home that point. “You need the Delta brand.”
Boyd also quipped, “Think of flights from Tupelo to Memphis as an escalator” getting you from one level to the next.
It is important to note that Tupelo would not be alone among major Mississippi cities in getting subsidies. Greenville, Meridian and Hattiesburg already have EAS support. Jackson and Gulfport, the largest-volume airports in the state, don’t rely on EAS funds.
The FY 2009 budget for EAS is $123 million; the request for 2010 could be $175 million.
Anderson estimates the subsidy need for Tupelo at a little more than $1 million.
We applaud the civic, airport and city leadership for their aggressive position on retaining Delta service. The federal funding is limited, and many other airports will fight intensely for a share.
We believe Tupelo can make a strong case for a better level of service with EAS – and make it succeed.

NEMS Daily Journal