Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Our Opinion: Air service decisions present good problems to have

After several years of lackluster and less than reliable air service, Tupelo residents were cautiously optimistic to welcome a new company to the Tupelo Regional Airport.

Contour Airlines arrived in Tupelo last year promising low fares on flights to Nashville and better service than the previous two airlines that had operated out of the All America City.

But after a strong first year of service, Tupelo seems to have found a reliable partner in Contour, which is owned by Tennessee-based Corporate Flight Management.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

From January through July 31, Tupelo Regional Airport recorded 5,563 enplanements (or boardings). July also was a record month, with 925 enplanements. In 2016, with Contour starting service in April and through Dec. 31, TUP had 5,913 enplanements. In 2015, with SeaPort Airlines providing service from January to October before pulling out, there were 1,517 enplanements.

Tupelo’s warm response to Contour’s air services has left the company wanting to bid again for another two-year contract through the U.S. Department of Transportation – a good sign that commercial air service will continue being offered here.

The DOT announced Friday it was requesting proposals from airlines interested in providing Essential Air Service flights at Tupelo, as well as Muscle Shoals, Alabama, for a new contract starting March 1, 2018, with or without a subsidy, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Dennis Seid. The deadline to submit is Sept. 19.

The Department of Transportation’s EAS program provides subsidized air service to communities like Tupelo that have had their air service reduced or eliminated through the years. CFM was one of four airlines that submitted bids two years ago.

Also in the discussion this time around is the possibility of utilizing the DOT’S Alternate EAS program instead. While the traditional EAS program gives the subsidy to the airline on a monthly basis following the completion of flights, Alternate EAS gives the money directly to the city or airport authority.

Contour officials said the uptick in passengers warrants a look at AEAS, which would allow the airline to utilize more seats. Under EAS, the Jetstream planes used by Contour can have a maximum of nine passengers, even though the aircraft was built to hold 19. The planes currently being used could be reconfigured to have all 19 seats available again as they were designed to have, or the airline can consider using a regional jet with 30 seats.

Bigger planes, however, mean higher expenses. The number of flights would be reduced to help mediate those costs, which are federally mandated to be be capped at $200 per passenger.

The community has a choice between higher frequency with the smaller plane or fewer flights with larger planes.

Another item airport and Contour officials will discuss is whether to continue providing service just to Nashville or if the time is right to introduce another destination.

All of these represent good problems to have. Tupelo has historically supported air service, and Contour appears to be a good fit for our community. We encourage in-depth discussions, with plenty of public input, on these items before decisions are made in order to keep this strong partnership thriving going forward.

Original article can be found here ➤

1 comment:

  1. We make KTUP a regular stop for our GA ops.

    Good prices on fuel and excellent service.

    We keep coming back.