By NEMS Daily Journal
The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration granted $5.83 million on Tuesday to the Tupelo Regional Airport for a long-sought runway extension and related improvements, validating planning and direct lobbying by the Tupelo Airport Authority board and two city administrations.
A separate federal order is equally important: mandatory continuation of Delta Air Lines’ service until a replacement carrier can be found under requirements of the Essential Air Service program, which supports small airports like Tupelo, Hattiesburg, and Greenville.
Tupelo Regional is classified as a “nonhub” primary airport
Sen. Thad Cochran’s office released the text of the air service and grant orders.
The notice said, “Since the service is the only scheduled air service provided, we are required to prohibit that termination of service and request proposals in a carrier-selection proceeding. As a result, today DOT issued an order to the carriers holding them in as the carrier of service for these communities. Therefore, there will be no hiatus in service and Mesaba/Pinnacle (Delta Air Lines affiliate) will continue service until DOT selects a replacement carrier and that carrier begins service. Selection of that replacement carrier will be based on two primary criteria – who the community wants and the subsidy that carrier requests relative to the other applicants. DOT will continue to keep the communities informed throughout this process.”
Delta had announced that it would terminate service to Tupelo because it could not make money flying to and from Memphis with the load averages Tupelo generates. Tupelo’s airport, when it had more flights, boarded more than 30,000 people a year, which suggests the quantity and quality of service impacts passenger volume.
The $5.8 million grant for the runway is not an earmark, but an allocation from the FAA’s trust fund for airport projects nationwide.
The lengthening to more than 7,000 feet, with major improvements in safety, lighting and taxiway pavement, would provide a runway of the same length and quality as much larger airports, making the airport ready for additional commercial, freight and general aviation capacity.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said Tuesday the grant represents a meeting of minds among city leadership to provide an adequate, improved runway without closing West Jackson Street Extended, as first proposed.
Several additional steps are required before the grant becomes a construction project, including moving vital navigational instruments at the airport. No date certain has been set for that project.
No one holds a crystal ball about Tupelo Regional, but economic development near the airport in the region suggests greater expectations.