Tupelo’s decision to accept a negotiated 15-flight-per-week Essential Air Service program guarantee for Delta Air Lines’ service through its subsidiary, Mesaba, settles for the time being uncertainty about continuing passenger service at Tupelo Regional Airport.
The imminent start of Essential Air Service-subsidized flights, June 10, is the start of what must be a new and unrelenting effort by Tupelo’s civic, business and political leadership – plus regular passengers – to support the new schedule.
Permanent passenger service is not guaranteed under the new order issued May 13 by the Department of Transportation.
The 15-flight guarantee includes two daily flights connecting to Memphis, a single flight whose schedule has not been finalized, and outside the agreement, Delta has committed to a daily Atlanta flight beginning June 10 for three months.
The Atlanta connection is not expected to be extended beyond summer’s end because Delta’s previous Tupelo-Atlanta flight was not profitable.
The official record of negotiations for Tupelo’s inclusion in the Essential Air Service program is extensive and complicated, and other proposals were considered and all ultimately rejected because DOT decided a 15-flight-per-week schedule meets Tupelo’s needs.
In essence, to gain more frequent service, the number of passengers boarding and flying into Tupelo must exceed what DOT says is adequate.
The order extends, on paper, from June 10 to May 31, 2012, but during that span Mesaba is expected to start flying an all-jet regional fleet, which would require a renegotiated subsidy.
Intangibles like a hoped-for big bump in passengers when Toyota moves ahead with auto production at its built-but-not-operating vehicle assembly plant off U.S. 78 at Blue Springs in Union County, can’t be factored yet. Were the plant operating with its full, planned 2,000-person workforce, and all of Toyota’s Tier 1 suppliers operating within a 50-mile radius with thousands of primary and secondary jobs, it would not be difficult to expect highest-ever passenger volume at Tupelo Regional. That hasn’t happened.
It’s possible to build on the existing passenger base. Tupelo Regional has boarded as many as 31,000 passengers in a year, and many of those can be reclaimed with smart marketing, opportunistic pricing, and consistent support.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr., who had face-to-face conversations Tuesday with Delta officials, said Wednesday the city is planning an event to stress the opportunities and clear challenges in a 15-flight schedule.
Tupelo’s record of shoulder-to-the-wheel work against daunting odds is established. The air service challenge can be met.
NEMS Daily Journal