by Daily Journal in Opinion
In a truly ironic moment for the Tupelo Regional Airport, the federal government announced recently it might cut funding for commercial air service in Tupelo – although airport and city leaders expect that not to actually happen.
Tupelo was one of 30 communities across the country to receive the notice of a possible temporary termination of funding from the Essential Air Service program, which Tupelo has relied on for air service since 2012.
Airport officials are asking for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Transportation and feel confident the waiver will be granted. But if the waiver isn’t granted, air service would end in Tupelo.
The communities getting the notice either did not meet the requirement of 10 passengers a day or went above the subsidy cap of $200 per passenger.
The irony of the situation is the announcement comes just as Tupelo’s newest commercial airline service, Contour Airlines, is taking off to a good start having started flights between Tupelo and Nashville last month.
The potential funding cut has nothing to do with Contour’s performance so far but instead with the previous air service provider’s, SeaPort Airlines, poor performance in Tupelo.
SeaPort struggled to provide reliable service in Tupelo, citing a pilot shortage. The company ended its service in late October, two months before the DOT said it could leave.
During its time at the airport, SeaPort Airlines exceeded the subsidy cap per passenger in Tupelo. Airport officials are working this week to craft a formal document for the waiver that cites the poor performance of SeaPort, which earlier this year filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The DOT order came a little more than six weeks after air service resumed in the All-America City with Corporate Flight Management and its airline, Contour Airlines.
The timing of SeaPort’s departure and the figures calculated by the DOT leave some important gaps that go against the airport, which is why officials believe the waiver will be granted once the numbers are reviewed more carefully and with context.
Seaport averaged fewer than five flights per day from January to April of last year; in May, that figured dropped below three, and from June to August, SeaPort averaged fewer than two flights per day. In September, the airline averaged half a flight a day and flew only 42 people the entire month.
By comparison, since starting service last month, Contour is averaging about 25 passengers per day. As for the subsidy cap, Contour’s subsidy is averaging about $230 per passenger – still above the cap, but far less than SeaPort’s average. As more passengers fly with Contour, the average subsidy rate decreases.
Contour flies 30 round-trip flights per week to Nashville, using a twin-engine, nine-passenger Jetstream plane. Since beginning service April 5, it has sold more than 4,300 tickets. It’s on-time completion rate is near 90 percent.
We hope the DOT will closely examine the information provided by Tupelo Regional Airport officials and see the airport and its newest airline shouldn’t be punished for the poor performance of a previous company that has since departed.
The possible termination of service in Tupelo would be devastating for a community that has recently showed a strong interest in commercial air service.
Original article can be found here: https://djournal.com/opinion