OUR OPINION: ‘Fly Local’ response set for Tupelo Airport effort

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo, Lee County, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and economic development leaders were briefed Monday morning on the evolving local and governmental situation with Tupelo Regional Airport, and while commercial air service remains uncertain in the long term, a sharper marketing focus is emerging.
Tupelo Regional Executive Director Josh Abramson and Mike Mooney, a contractor representing the Sixel consulting firm, painted a broad but detailed picture of the airline industry and challenges facing most small-market airports like Tupelo, where boardings dropped below 10,000 during 2012, making the city ineligible for a $1 million federal aviation grant.
Abramson’s briefing included outlines of other ways Tupelo Regional could generate income, including lease-development of part of its 261 non-aeronautical acres. The Tupelo Airport Authority (that is, the public) owns 873 acres, including the site of the Tupelo Buffalo Park, which is under private lease.
Abramson said airport land is available for development on a stretch of West Main Street near its intersection with Coley Road, used by about 36,000 vehicles every day. The land would be leased, not sold.
The issues of higher visibility and public interest revolve around passenger service, which has been a fact of life at the Tupelo airport for 60 years.
Passenger service has seen ups and down in numbers, but changes in the major airlines make long-term continuity uncertain.
Mooney, who is a consultant representing small airports like Tupelo, said the indicators point toward larger regional jets using fewer regional airports and some once-significant hubs like Memphis dwindling to a fraction of their peak daily flight loads.
Mooney’s most interesting and most challenging briefing point was “leakage” of 89 percent of the potential daily passenger traffic from Tupelo to other nearby airports like Memphis, Birmingham and Jackson.
Abramson said Tupelo’s response to that and the broader situation will be a “Fly Local” campaign focused on winning the business in the airport service area for Silver Airways, an independent regional carrier that started service from Tupelo to Atlanta late in 2012. Abramson and Mooney also said Silver will have easier connectivity with Delta and other carriers in coming months.
We hope for the sake of Tupelo’s economy that Silver can reboot passenger traffic that at one time exceeded 33,000 per year.