By NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo Regional Airport’s plans for the future include a possible necessity of finding a carrier to serve the city without the guaranteed subsidy called Essential Air Service, which may be politically endangered.
Tupelo receives about $1 million per year from EAS to help keep Delta Air Lines service to and from Memphis operating. The 15 flights weekly are inadequate in frequency and schedule to generate as many passengers as 2006, when more than double the number of flights drew 31,334 passengers.
Tupelo Regional, which expanded and vastly improved facilities with the expectation of bright prospects, has suffered because of the recession, the merger of Northwest and Delta, the end of flights to Atlanta, a reduction in service to Memphis, and it must deal with Delta’s change to all-jet service within a year. That could require options not in play.
The point opponents of Essential Air Service miss is that the program is not as much about profitable airlines as about profitable communities and their connectivity. A $200 million program in operation for 33 years isn’t the tipping point for a balanced budget, but it could be a tipping point for diminished community success.
Tupelo, like other progressive communities, needs commercial air service to sell itself as a strong prospect for commercial, retail and industrial development. It needs better service than Delta is providing to make flying to and from Tupelo competitive in price and connectivity. If Delta won’t be a better partner the prospects for success diminish.
Mississippi Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, both Republicans, were among a bipartisan majority who voted against eliminating the $200 million nationwide program over the objections of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who passionately opposes it.
“Our approach to federal spending cuts needs to make sense,” Wicker said. “Mississippi’s regional airports promote commerce and job creation. Rather than eliminating the program entirely, I worked with Sen. (Tom) Coburn (R-Ariz.) to make prudent cuts …”
Said Cochran, “During Senate consideration of the FAA reauthorization act, I voted with the Senate to retain this program, and I supported those reforms that would protect the interests of the Mississippi airports that are qualified for EAS assistance.”
Senate approval of continuing the program is just the first hurdle. A death bill remains alive in the U.S. House, where we hope 1st District U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, supports EAS’s survival.
Essential Air Service should not be viewed as a government handout but as a crucial investment in local and regional prosperity.