Tupelo city officials and the region’s congressional delegation preemptively started work this week to negotiate specifics of uninterrupted commercial service for Tupelo Regional Airport under the federal Essential Air Service program, the option of choice in the face of an expected termination notice by Delta Airlines.
An announcement Tuesday morning by Tupelo Regional Airport administrator Terry Anderson placed first emphasis on “uninterrupted service” rather than “notice of termination,” which is a necessary step to trigger Essential Air Service subsidy for whatever airline eventually wins a bid to provide continuing service.
The EAS program is widely used by airports like Tupelo’s which need service but don’t always sustain a traffic level that makes the routes profitable.
The airports in Meridian and Hattiesburg, both cities slightly larger than Tupelo, operate successfully under the EAS program. Tupelo has held long-term eligibility under the program but has not needed to activate the program until the current economic downturn. Tupelo was among the original cities designated for potential EAS participation when the program was enacted in 1978, when airlines were economically deregulated by the federal government.
Delta has two flights a day serving Tupelo – flights to and from Memphis and Atlanta.
Delta became the world’s largest airline when it merged with Northwest. Delta, via the merger, becomes a successor airline to Southern Airways, which was the first service provider for the Tupelo airport in 1951.
Delta and Northwest both briefly served Tupelo Regional, with Delta providing the first regularly scheduled jet service, connecting through Atlanta. The Delta-jet-to-Atlanta service ended in early 2008.
Tupelo’s official transparency about the anticipated termination gives notice that the city and its private-sector economic development leadership are working in tandem with the congressional delegation in making the transition to EAS-backed service.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said he and other city leaders are prepared to meet with the congressional delegation, EAS/DOT officials and anyone else in Washington or anywhere else to iron out details of continuing service. Similar support was expressed by the region’s delegation: U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, and U.S. Rep. Travis Childers.
Delta won’t necessarily be the provider, but it is expected to want to keep the route in anticipation of an economic rebound.
Before the recession, serious moves had been made toward linking Tupelo with Cincinnati, the airport serving Toyota’s North American headquarters in Kentucky. Toyota’s partially completed assembly plant in Blue Springs is expected, when production begins, to be a major boon to commercial passenger volume at the Tupelo airport.
Tupelo’s leadership is making the right moves to continue strong air service.
NEMS Daily Journal