OUR OPINION: Airline recommendation nearing for Tupelo airport

Two airlines seeking to serve Tupelo Regional Airport under provisions of the federal Essential Air Service program made public presentations Tuesday and Wednesday, pitching their strengths, successes and plans to airport employees, some members of the Tupelo Airport Authority, and journalists.

Four airlines had indicated interest in replacing Silver Airlines, which has filed plans to stop service in Tupelo as soon as its replacement as a passenger carrier can be found.

Two of the airlines indicating interest actually came to Tupelo seeking a contract: Air Choice One, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, and SeaPort Airlines, based in Portland, Oregon.

A recommendation is expected at Tuesday’s full airport authority board meeting. Jim Newman, a Tupelo entrepreneur, chairs the airline selection committee. He and TRA executive administrator Josh Abramson will meet during the weekend to prepare a formal choice, which they did not reveal Wednesday afternoon.

Air Choice One and SeaPort both would dramatically change the kind of service Tupelo has had for decades. Both would fly the nine-passenger, single-engine Cessna Caravan into and out of Tupelo; both would connect, probably, to both Memphis, the historic connection airport, and Nashville, which has more flights and more destinations than does Memphis, including Southwest Airlines.

Air Choice One would use a single pilot, as the FAA allows in the Cessna aircraft. SeaPort would use a captain and a first officer in the cockpit.

The rough-and-tumble world of small airlines, often concentrated in regions, has grown dramatically with airline mergers and service reductions, even by legacy carriers like Delta, United and American. Delta and American both have served Tupelo Regional at points during its more than 50-year history of passenger air service.

Air Choice One and SeaPort both can point to successful service contracts and passenger enplanements at some of the airports served. Both also concede that some plans didn’t work out as hoped; they offer a commitment to try and make service for Tupelo work. Neither offers any promises.

Both airlines offered plans on paper for low fares in some ticket categories, significantly less than $100 one way and less than $200 round trip to its connector airports, for nonflexible, nonrefundable tickets.

Neither offers full interconnectivity with destination airlines, but SeaPort insists it has the technology in hand to make it happen. Customers won’t be fully satisfied until reservations and baggage handling for a whole route are easily assured.

Tupelo’s passenger market has migrated to other airports by the thousands, and hard, reliable work will be required to bring them back.

We believe reliability and convenience can start that rebuilding.

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