By NEMS Daily Journal
Delta Air Lines’ apparent decision to permanently end service to Tupelo and at least two other Mississippi cities operating under the Essential Air Service program makes upcoming city discussions with airlines proposing service more important than ever.
Delta has served Tupelo under the names Southern, Republic and Northwest Airlines. Its existing schedule of service to Memphis International, the first connection point for passengers out of Tupelo, is minimal. Delta, for a time, offered regional jet service to Atlanta, but that was canceled because of profitability issues.
Two airlines, both flying small planes, have applied to receive EAS subsidies and serve Tupelo: Seaport Airlines and Air Choice One both propose more flights than Delta currently offers, but the planes are Cessna Grand Caravans for both airlines. Those planes can seat a maximum of 12 people and are single-engine aircraft.
SeaPort Airlines and Air Choice One have sent proposals to the U.S. Department of Transportation. SeaPort is offering 18 weekly flights to Memphis and 26 weekly flights to Nashville for more than $2.6 million in subsidy; Air Choice is proposing 52 weekly flights, all to Memphis, for more than $2.3 million.
Seaport has SeaPort with US Airways and expects to have agreements with other airways before the end of 2011.
It is not certain that the DOT/FAA would accept either proposal as submitted, but an additional connection to Nashville might be preferable to continuing connections by any airline to Memphis only. Nashville offers service by Southwest, a popular airline whose fares are attractive to many Tupelo travelers but which does not serve Memphis. The closest Southwest service is Birmingham.
Delta receives $920,000 per year from EAS to fly out of Tupelo.
The bottom line, of course, is profitability, whether for Delta or any other airline. The EAS program is scheduled, under federal legislation, to terminate in two years, which will require another course correction for Tupelo Regional.
Delta continues serving Tupelo because it is required until Tupelo and DOT can strike an agreement with a replacement airline.
Tupelo is not bound to accept a proposal for either applicant airline, and it could ask the DOT for help in finding a replacement other than the two applicants.
The federal mandate is to provide the EAS communities with access to the national air transportation system. The website states that EAS says that under the broader rules, no eligible community need have a hiatus in service because of holding existing service until a replacement is secured.
We hope that is the case in Tupelo.