By NEMS Daily Journal
The inexplicable processes of the federal government appear finally to be unfolding in favor of upgraded and stabilized passenger air service at Tupelo Regional Airport.
Delta Air Lines said Tuesday that a three-daily-flight commitment will return in June, including an early morning flight to Memphis. The announcement followed months of uncertainty, a reduction in flights and a schedule change that will leave Tupelo temporarily without a morning connection flight through Memphis International.
Mesaba Airlines, a Delta subsidiary, services Tupelo Regional, but it had announced last summer that it could no longer fly into Tupelo without financial assistance through the Essential Air Service program of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The EAS certification process involves a bid proposal by airlines seeking to serve EAS airports, and Mesaba offered plans ranging between $1 million and $2 million in cost. Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr., the City Council and the Tupelo Airport Authority favor continued Mesaba service because it is a connection for other airlines, especially Delta, in Memphis and Atlanta.
Seaport Airlines also expressed interest in serving Tupelo, but it would not have been able to connect with other airlines and it flies a single-engine Pilatus aircraft, which some civic leaders feared would not be popular with passengers.
Mesaba, founded in 1944, is the longest-flying regional airline in the U.S.
Mesaba serves more than 75 cities in the U.S. and Canada from hub cities Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Memphis, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.
Mesaba operates the 34-passenger Saab SF340 in Tupelo, a twin turbo-prop aircraft.
Mesaba, however, has said it will phase out the Saabs, replacing them with regional jets. Mesaba already uses some Embraer jets, manufactured in Brazil.
The rebuilding of the flight schedule to three daily departures and arrivals should help the airport reverse a months-long decline in boardings. If the flights preferred by travelers, especially business travelers, aren’t available, they will fly through another airport, usually Memphis or Golden Triangle, and use rental cars for the final leg of their trip to Northeast Mississippi.
Adequate flights at competitive prices, we believe, can bring passengers back to Tupelo Regional, especially as the national economy recovers.
In April, when the early morning Mesaba/Delta Connection flight switches to a late-afternoon flight, travelers’ flexibility and loyalty will be tested. But the change is only for one month, when a 7 a.m. flight resumes, followed in June by a late afternoon flight to Memphis.
The wait now is for official confirmation of EAS participation under a Mesaba contract.