Fifteen flights a week just don’t cut it. Double that number and we might be getting somewhere.
For most of 2006 and 2007, Tupelo Regional had six round-trip flights a day, which helps explain why 31,334 passengers flew out of Tupelo in ’06 and another 28,449 flew in ’07.
So, in response to critics who say “nobody” uses the airport, that assumption is incorrect.
But look at recent numbers: 15,936 two years ago, 13,088 last year and just over 10,000 so far this year.
Cut flights, cut service and the result is what we’ve seen the past three years – a steady slide in traffic.
Why do people fly? Convenience.
Three weeks ago I had to wait with 22 other people for 2 1⁄2 hours at Memphis International for the flight to Tupelo. I couldn’t help but wonder why I was putting up with the inconvenience.
Well, I saved $36 by not having to park in Memphis for almost a week. I didn’t have to pay for the gas in my car to get there and back. I didn’t have to go through a long security screening. And I did get to eat at Corky’s.
So maybe it wasn’t so inconvenient for me, but if you’re in business, time is money. And if you travel a lot, air connections are critical.
So while we’re fighting to preserve and improve air service – which is difficult when the airline is already taking a federal subsidy to provide “minimal” service (and indeed it is) – why even bother with extending the 6,500-foot runway by another 650 feet?
Former airport director Terry Anderson pushed for a 1,500-foot extension, but plans to close or divert West Jackson Street Extended created a small firestorm.
The City Council two years ago approved a 1,000-foot extension that would have shifted the road. A road committee also recommended the same, but said it preferred a tunnel option. Not everyone on the airport authority at the time could agree on the extension.
But now with a new director, new board members and a new plan in place, the authority is touting a 650-foot extension. However, not everyone on the City Council is so sure about the plan this time around.
Airport officials say the extension is important for future economic development, additional airport capacity and expectations that Delta will use bigger regional jets.
The required environmental assessment public hearing last week was a good start. But airport officials might want to have another general meeting with the public to answer any lingering questions.
At least two city councilmen said they want to know more about it. Other residents are curious, too.
With an understanding of what the airport wants to do, the public will be more likely to throw its support behind the project.
The use of public money – no matter the amount – will always be challenged by some, especially now. But if the money is used for the greater good – which is what the airport says it’s trying to do – then it can rally greater support.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.