OUR OPINION: Wide cooperation essential in Tupelo Regional’s future

By NEMS Daily Journal

The new, improved and more transparent relationship between the Tupelo City Council and the Tupelo Airport Authority began Thursday with painful but not surprising information that Tupelo Regional is in difficult financial times and seeks $275,345 from the city to cover a shortfall in operating expenses.
No decisions have been made on that request or other funding for capital improvements that would be needed in the 2013 budget cycle, which starts Oct. 1.
Tupelo Regional, like many other airports nationwide in small cities, wrestles with fast-paced change in the airline industry.
Tupelo, for example, will lose service by Delta Air Lines in a few weeks because Delta earlier announced it would pull out because it could not operate profitably even supported by federal Essential Air Service subsidies.
Silver Airways, a new regional carrier, will begin service exclusively to Atlanta when Delta stops, coincidentally in October.
Silver has been approved for Essential Air Service program support, and it will serve several other Mississippi airports, too, all under the EAS umbrella.
Delta and its predecessor airlines (Northwest, Republic and Southern) had served the Tupelo market for decades, with a period of service by American Eagle as well, flying to Nashville, which at the time was an American hub city, as was Memphis for Delta.
Memphis is no longer a Delta hub, and Nashville is not an American hub.
Atlanta is a Delta hub, and Silver will interconnect in Atlanta.
Changes beyond Tupelo Regional have dramatically affected which airlines will fly to Tupelo, flight frequency and the kind of aircraft used.
The bottom line for every airline is profitability. If seats aren’t filled the flights will eventually stop because airlines’ bills have to be paid.
The BoydGroup International, a leading airport/airline consulting firm, forecasts more major changes in the decade ahead.
The central, long-term issue for Tupelo Regional is its continued operation as a significant general aviation hub as well as commercial service, and continuing strong promotion by the city government, the Convention and Visitors Bureau (funded with tax revenue) and as much as possible, use by Tupelo’s business travel clients.
Competition exists in every direction for Tupelo’s passengers – Memphis, Birmingham and Golden Triangle in particular.
Atlanta, however, is the connection for air travel everywhere, and we hope Silver is able to take full advantage of that strength in promoting its connection with Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi.
An adequate airport is a necessity for economic development, and cooperation around the table is necessary to meet that goal in times of airline and air service transitions.