Tupelo Regional Airport’s commercial air service appears to be on a potentially strong path to recovery with Contour Airlines’ daily service to Nashville, a major airport with strong connections worldwide.
At the same time, the service challenges the airport faced infrastructure problems not uncommon to airfields of any size. The financial impact of the challenges was complicated by loss of federal revenue when passenger service dipped below 10,000 boardings per year. Under the Essential Air Service program contract every passenger means a set amount of revenue to the airline, and 10,000 is the minimum number for full financial benefit.
Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and Sen. Roger Wicker, both Mississippi Republicans, announced approval of a $950,000 taxiway resurfacing grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The grant was possible because the Tupelo Airport Authority had the project “shovel ready,” and the FAA used year-end funds to respond to the need. It almost goes without saying the two senators and the rest of the congressional delegation also went to bat for the money.
The airport authority acted on the taxiway applications in late spring.
The taxiway parallels the north-south runway, and it is used by virtually every air plane landing or taking off in Tupelo.
The FAA grant will pay for remilling the taxiway and repaving with asphalt.
In addition to the Tupelo work, Ripley’s airport will receive grants totaling $616,688, which will be used to mill and overlay 4,400 feet of runway at the general aviation facility.
All the grants underscore the importance of the federal role in air service and facilities at every level. They all are expensive, and they all serve a need beyond anything called recreational flying.
Airport authority member Jim Newman said the federal role in airport maintenance and construction is as important as investment in highways, rail and waterways.
Last year, Cochran and Wicker, along with U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., announced a similar $716,779 grant for runway safety improvements, fencing installation and runway rehabilitation at the Tupelo airport.
Earlier this summer, the senators announced a $20.3 million FAA grant for 19 other Mississippi airport facilities.
Last spring, a new FAA reform bill was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, of which Wicker is a member. The legislation was signed into law by President Obama on July 15.
Cochran chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, which in May approved the FY-2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill with $3.35 billion to support the Airport Improvement Program.
Mississippi could not safely maintain airports on its own. And as with other issues, Mississippi leaders should take advantage of every available federal dollar for improvements.