By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Air Choice One CEO Shane Storz said affordability and reliability are critical in establishing air service in Tupelo, and he said his airline would ensure both.
Storz said one-way tickets from Tupelo to Memphis would start at $49 and lower for probably the first six months of service, while one-way tickets to Nashville would start at $59.
Those prices are for non-refundable tickets. Refundable tickets would tack on about $20 more per ticket. Prices would remain competitive after the initial promotional pricing, he said.
The low fares are available because of the subsidy the airline is requesting from the federal Essential Air Service program, which is funded through airlines’ overflight fees.
For St. Louis-based Air Choice One, its subsidy request ranges from $2.9 million to $3.9 million, depending on the schedule Tupelo prefers.
The cheapest option would offer 30 round-trip tickets a week between Memphis and Tupelo. The most expensive offers 18 round trips to Memphis as well as 18 round trips to Nashville a week for $3.9 million.
Storz said the hubs connecting Tupelo are just as important as price, and said Nashville should be an appealing option.
If selected, Storz said it would take Air Choice One about 90 days before it could get operations started.
“We don’t want to rush it; we want to get it right,” he said.
The airline already provides service in Decatur, Illinois; Burlington, Indiana and Jonesboro, Arkansas. It begins service in Ironwood, Michigan on Monday. And on Tueday, the airline was selected by Mason City and Fort Dodge in Iowa to provide service there.
Storz is banking on his airline’s success – it has received four-year contract extensions in Decatur, Burlington and Jonesboro – as well as its ability at keeping the per-passenger subsidy to less than $200, a requirement by the EAS.
Storz admits it will be challenging to convince the flying public to hop onto an eight-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan plane.
But he said Air Choice One will use an executive seating configuration, which offers larger, more comfortable seats. Other configurations of the plane have nine seats but use standard commercial seating.
One of the first things to overcome is the perception of uncomfortable seats, and Air Choice One’s configuration will change that, Storz said. The airline has five Grand Cessnas and has financing for three more.
Getting the planes is contingent on the airline being tapped to provide service.
SeaPort Airlines will make its presentation this afternoon. Sun Air cancelled its appearance, but has not withdrawn its bid.