EDITORIAL: Airport progress

By NEMS Daily Journal

Planning for a 1,000-foot extension of the runway at Tupelo Regional Airport moved forward by several steps Tuesday night.
Consulting engineers presented a scenario to the Tupelo Airport Authority that would accomplish the lengthening without closing any streets and without requiring the relocation of a bank branch adjacent to airport property.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Transportation has not officially brought Tupelo into the Essential Air Service program, a subsidy widely used by airports similar to Tupelo nationwide whose traffic can’t profitably sustain commercial flights.
More than 100 airports operate within EAS. The criteria, as the name suggests, is air service essential to a community’s or region’s economy. A subsidy is paid to an airline whose bid for a specific level of service is accepted by DOT.
Discussions within the Mississippi congressional delegation suggest a formal announcement soon by DOT, presumably involving continuing service by Delta Air Lines to Memphis and Atlanta. Airport Authority Chair L.E. “Bo” Gibens said Wednesday it is his understanding that already announced three-daily-flights service by Delta scheduled to start in June will be under the EAS umbrella.
The permanence of Tupelo’s service has been a question mark since July 2009, when Delta announced that it would end service to Tupelo for financial reasons.
City officials and civic leaders, including airport authority members, immediately began negotiating and lobbying for the EAS subsidy to stabilize the flight schedule while the city moved forward with runway improvements and the general economy had time to rebound.
The formal approval for EAS participation would encourage Delta for the long term, and especially help with a three-flight schedule, the minimum considered feasible by airport consultants for Tupelo Regional to maintain viability.
Under the EAS program, DOT determines the “minimum level of service required at each eligible community by specifying a hub through which the community is linked to the national network, a minimum number of round trips and available seats that must be provided to that hub, certain characteristics of the aircraft to be used, and the maximum permissible number of intermediate stops to the hub. Where necessary, the department pays subsidy to a carrier to ensure that the specified level of service is provided.”
As of April 1, 2009, the department subsidized service at 108 communities in the contiguous 48 states, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, and 45 in Alaska.
Probabilities like increased passenger volume and more flights when Toyota’s Blue Springs assembly plant begins full operation figure in airport’s plans but not in EAS eligibility.