Patience is a definite virtue in the quest to continue commercial airline service at Tupelo Regional Airport.
Airport authority executive director Terry Anderson said on Thursday that negotiations not directly involving anyone from City Hall or the Tupelo Airport Authority are on-going, but no definite commitments have been made, so there’s nothing to report.
However, Anderson and others, including Mayor Jack Reed Jr., the City Council and members of the airport authority, are watching the calendar because Dec. 14 is the expiration of an extended deadline for Delta to cease Tupelo operations. Mesaba is the carrier operating in Tupelo for Delta.
Anderson said Delta’s corporate representatives have been in negotiations with the federal Department of Transportation about what level of subsidy it can receive if it continues service to Tupelo under a program called Essential Air Service.
The Essential Air Service (EAS) program guarantees that small communities served by certificated air carriers before airline deregulation in 1978 maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service. Tupelo was served by Southern Airways, which became Republic, which became Northwest, which merged in 2009 with Delta.
DOT subsidizes approximately 140 rural communities across the country. Several other Mississippi airports already use EAS funds, but each airport is considered as an individual case. Meridian, Greenville and Laurel-Hattiesburg all were EAS airports.
The program invests about $2.8 million at the three subsidized Mississippi operations.
Anderson said Tupelo officials have submitted all the information requested by DOT and Delta, which operates through Mesaba airlines with its Tupelo flights. He said a goal of three daily flights – two serving Memphis and one serving Atlanta – remains the top priority.
The EAS law requires four considerations:
- Service reliability.
- Contractual and marketing arrangements with a larger carrier at the hub.
- Logistical arrangements with a larger carrier at the hub.
- Community views. After proposals are received, communities’ views are solicited. After receiving a community’s views, a decision designating the carrier and specifying the specific service pattern, subsidy rate, and effective period is issued.
We are certain Northeast Mississippians will respond vigorously when given a chance to comment.
It is notable that U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran all are on record in support of continuing service for Tupelo.
A longer runway is an important issue, but air service is a continuing necessity.
NEMS Daily Journal