- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - An airline consultant has recommended SeaPort Airlines as the future passenger air service provider for Tupelo.

About a dozen community and business leaders met Friday to discuss options as Tupelo’s current carrier, Silver Airways, ends its federally subsidized service through the Essential Air Service program.

Jim Newman, former marketing director at the Tupelo Regional Airport, organized the meeting.

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1sBpx3p) four airlines have offered to provide service, with subsidies ranging from $2.5 million to $3.9 million. Newman also wanted to explore the Alternative Essential Air Service program, which would allow a community to use funds to recruit an airline.

But Michael Mooney of Sixel Consulting Group, which advises communities across the country on air service, said the program is used in only one location, an isolated Michigan city which did not receive air service bids in the past.

“The equation for Tupelo is frequency, price and marketing,” Mooney said. “Alternative Air Service does not change the equation; frequency is the key, but Alternative Air Service does not provide that.”

SeaPort is offering 30 round-trip flights a week: 12 to Memphis, Tennessee, and 18 to Nashville on nine-passenger Grand Caravan planes.

Pursuing other regional carriers via major carriers American or United has been tried, but the airlines aren’t currently interested in Tupelo, Mooney said.

Tupelo Regional Airport executive director Josh Abramson said he prefers SeaPort.

“Sun Air is coming June 30 to make a presentation, SeaPort will be coming in the next two weeks, and I’m extending an invitation to Air Choice One,” he said.

Air Choice has four options, either 30 or 36 round trips, also to Memphis and Nashville. Its subsidy request, depending on the option, costs $2.9 million to $3.9 million. It also would use the Grand Caravan planes.

Sun Air is offering 31 round trips between Tupelo and Memphis using eight-passenger Piper Navajo planes. Its subsidy would be nearly $2.9 million.

Tupelo has until July 9 to recommend its preferred carrier to the federal Department of Transportation.

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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