OUR OPINION: Tupelo regional among state’s airport assets

Tupelo Regional Airport employees, members of the airport authority board and city officials all remain in a holding pattern until the required federal signatures are on an agreement for Sea-Port Airlines to serve Tupelo under the Essential Air Service subsidy program for airports like Tupelo nationwide.

SeaPort officials came to Tupelo and made a convincing pitch to the air service committee of the authority, and if the signatures are affixed soon, as expected, service could begin Oct. 1.

Silver Airways announced months ago that it was ending its service to Tupelo and Atlanta, an arrangement that has never been fully satisfactory.

Despite service problems at Tupelo Regional in recent years, it remains one of the major economic assets among airports in our state. Only eight, including Tupelo, have commercial service, but 65 others serve general aviation, business aircraft, and of particular importance, agricultural aviation.

Then Mississippi Department of Transportation issued a special study, based on Federal Aviation Administration models, showing the state’s airports generate a $2.5 billion impact and employ directly and indirectly 20,000 people who earn $722 million per year.

“This study indicates how substantial the aviation industry is to Mississippi,” said MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath.

The state’s eight commercial service airports serve more than 1.1 million passengers annually through Golden Triangle Regional in Columbus/West Point, Greenville Mid-Delta, Gulfport-Biloxi International, Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional, Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International, Key Field in Meridian, Tunica Municipal and Tupelo Regional. The other 65 general aviation airports generate business revenue and wages, and empower millions of dollars of economic impact throughout the state.

The MDOT report notes that agriculture, the largest business category in Mississippi’s economy, produces $7.5 billion annually, employing “29 percent of the state’s workforce either directly or indirectly.”

Many of the millions of acres under cultivation are sprayed by agricultural aviators – 230 pilots statewide, 190 aircraft and 100 businesses.

In addition to substantial annual economic benefits, the report states, “Mississippi airports have numerous qualitative benefits related to health, welfare and safety that cannot be easily assigned dollar values. Examples of the benefits include facilitating emergency medical transport, providing support to law enforcement, conducting search-and-rescue operations, providing aerial surveying and supporting military operations.”

The expected new air service for Tupelo will link to Memphis and Nashville, further strengthening Tupelo Regional’s diverse role in the airport economy.