OUR OPINION: Commercial air service essential for Tupelo

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo Regional Airport’s quest for passenger air service adequate enough for reasonable convenience and frequent enough to make flying into Tupelo practical appears to have moved forward with the endorsement by four cities’ mayors of a contract with Silver Airways, a regional airline with interconnectivity agreements with major airlines through Atlanta, the South’s largest hub.
An agreement with a reliable carrier is important because Delta Air Lines , in effect, has said it will quit serving Tupelo as soon as possible. It provides a few flights per week to Memphis, but it discontinued service to Atlanta because it said the route using its regional jets was not profitable.
The mayors of Tupelo, Greenville, Hattiesburg and Muscle Shoals, Ala., – all cities looking for another air carrier to replace Delta Air Lines – have thrown their support behind Silver, the Daily Journal reported last week.
Delta provides service under the federal Essential Air service Program, a recent development, and so would Silver Air. The EAS subsidizes service for airports where service is deemed essential but passenger volume does not create profitability.
Tupelo’s passenger boardings have declined sharply in recent years, from about 30,000 to about 10,000. Some airport supporters and authority board members believe an adequate number of flights and competitive pricing could recapture passengers who once flew from Tupelo but now use Golden Triangle, Memphis, Birmingham or other airports.
Another bidder, Air Choice One, was rejected.
We support efforts to provide better and more frequent service, especially on the business-travel days during the week.
Silver Air would not use regional jets but the more familiar Saab 340 turboprop aircraft, carrying 34 passengers, which previously flew into Tupelo under Northwest Airlines and then Delta.
Silver has proposed commercial air service from all four cities to Atlanta, which has national and international connections.
The mayors said the ticket and bag agreements Silver has with major airlines in Atlanta, as well as its “extensive and successful experience” were convincing arguments.
Delta has told 24 communities nationwide, including the cities involved in negotiations, it could no longer provide air service. The mayors said they prefer Silver’s “option 1″ for their service. For Hattiesburg, that would mean 12 nonstop, round-trip flights between Atlanta and Muscle Shoals and 18 flights weekly on a “paired” routing between Greenville, Tupelo and Atlanta. Service through Tupelo would include three flights daily Monday through Friday, one flight on Saturday and two on Sunday. Silver is asking for a total subsidy of more than $12.6 million.
We believe a reasonable offer should be accepted.