TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) — The Tupelo Regional Airport is in the delicate stage of a tough balancing act. It must convince a new carrier that it has the market and customer base to warrant a major investment of planes, pilots and scheduling. Meanwhile, it must try to offset almost two years of statistics that show just the opposite. It’s a sales job that is a critical piece of the region’s long-term development puzzle.
From the beginning, Silver Airways Tupelo service was plagued with problems. The airline was often late, flights were cancelled and many passengers viewed the service as unreliable. So last week’s announcement that it was ending service in Tupelo after 18 months wasn’t a real surprise although Silver had said otherwise.
Silver Airways officials pointed to a lower than expected passenger count, along with other factors that caused them to halt service in Tupelo, Meridian, Greenville, Laurel-Hattiesburg and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
The Tupelo Airport Board got an update on the situation. Airport Authority Chairman Fred Cook believes the right carrier for Tupelo is out there , somewhere.
“Very viable out of the Tupelo area, and that’s what we want to make sure that we go out looking for the best opportunity for our area,” Cook said.
Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson will lead the effort to attract a new carrier. But he told board members it shouldn’t expect a service using the 50-passenger jets that service Columbus. He says passenger numbers don’t support them at this point. That’s what the community must sell to a carrier large enough to provide reliable service.
“We take information about the community, we talk about the employment, two banks based out of here, Toyota of course is a big one, we have a large percentage of international traffic to the Nagoya Airport, as part of what sells the community,” Abramson said.
Abramson says there are some carriers that could provide good service and make money using federal subsidies. He hopes a new carrier could be announced by May or June with service possibly by August. In the meantime, federal law will require Silver Airways to continue service.
Abramson points out that the airport will keep the public updated on the search for a new carrier on its website, www.flytupelo.com