Air Choice One and Silver Airways have submitted bids to provide commercial air service in Tupelo.
Delta Air Lines is providing service, but only because it's receiving a subsidy of more than $1.6 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Essential Air Service Program.
• Air Choice One has submitted twice before but has been rejected by Tupelo Regional Airport and city officials. This time around, the company is offering 18 to 24 weekly round trip flights to Memphis. The first year it would use 8-seat Jetstream aircraft or 9-seat Cessna Grand Caravans, depending on which option the city might choose, while the second year it would use 18-seat Jetstreams.The two-year subsidy request ranges $3.48 million to more than $6 million.
• Silver Airways is offering 12 to 18 roundtrips weekly flights to Atlanta, using a plane very familiar to Tupelo passengers. Silver is using Saab 340 turboprops, the planes Delta used to fly between Tupelo and Memphis for years before phasing them out last year in favor of CRJs.
Silver also has this little bonus in its bid - it's working with Delta on an interline agreement, which would allow the two airlines to have connecting itineraries. And, Silver says it's working with Delta to participate in its SkyMiles program.
The 36-flight option would require a two-year subsidy of $4.5 million, while the 24-flight option would require almost $3.1 million
And so, Tupelo Regional Executive Director Josh Abramson said the city and airport have until May 1 to submit comments to DOT about the bids.
He also said Silver appears to offer the better deal because of its schedule, the aircraft it's using and the interline agreeement it's working on with Delta.
Asked which option he prefers, Abramson said, "the more frequency the better."
As it stands now, Delta provides 12 weekly flights to Memphis, and as noted last week, is getting an annual subsidy of more than $1.6 million, a slight "raise" from the $1.579 million it was getting.