OUR OPINION: SeaPort spreads its wings for newest Tupelo service

SeaPort Airlines last week received federal approval to become Tupelo Regional Airport’s next passenger service provider, with flights to Memphis and/or Nashville probably starting in October.

SeaPort, founded in Juneau, Alaska, in 1982 as Wings of Alaska, for more than two decades operated entirely within the southeast Alaska region. In 2008, Wings of Alaska was purchased by SeaPort Air Group, LLC and the headquarters was moved to Portland, Oregon. Flight operations were launched in the Pacific Northwest with a business strategy of operating a shuttle service between Seattle and Portland – from which their corporate name is drawn.

SeaPort offered private terminals and the avoidance of TSA screening lines, and it offered business travelers a strong contrast to crowded, large airport terminals, its company narrative says.

SeaPort also became part of the massive and swift changes in airline service at virtually every level and at most airports nationwide, a phenomenon repeatedly forecast by industry professionals, including Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson.

SeaPort “refocused on a strategy of building a ‘next generation’ regional airline, connecting small and rural communities with national air transportation via large hub airports,” the company said.

SeaPort will operate in Tupelo under the Essential Air Service program, a federal subsidy for airlines serving small communities needing the service but whose traffic level won’t necessarily sustain it without assistance.

SeaPort has a two-year contract. It replaces Silver Airways, a consensus choice for unacceptable service.

In a major change, SeaPort flies the single-engine Cessna Grand Caravan, which seats nine people and has two pilots, and is widely used as a passenger aircraft serving small markets like Tupelo. The plane is designed for lower-altitude flying, and the cabin is not pressurized. Its flights usually are relatively brief, covering only a few hundred miles, and its selling-point is convenience and reliability.

Tupelo, whose air service has been in flux for several years, should consider itself fortunate to have service, especially with a company whose experience has been profitable and adaptive.

SeaPort earlier committed to affordable service. We hope business travelers from Tupelo and the region will give SeaPort a chance to earn regular patronage because that’s necessary to maintain service for the long term.