Tupelo — Airline service is an important transportation component in any region’s economic and community development strategy. But beyond the larger metropolitan markets, the numbers often make it tough to justify multiple service providers.
But on June 1, Tupelo Regional Airport’s marketing slogan of “Fly Tupelo” literally added a lot of mileage to its message when Atlantic Southeast Airlines/Delta Connection — a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta Airlines — began offering daily direct jet service between Tupelo and Delta’s Atlanta hub. The addition, according to Tupelo Airport executive director Terry Anderson, complements Tupelo’s existing Northwest Airlink flight service to Memphis while adding greater versatility and convenience for regional travelers who may otherwise drive to Memphis, Jackson or Birmingham airports for their flight plans.
“Having this connection along with Northwest provides greater coverage and convenience,” Anderson said. “It also furthers our goal of making Tupelo a truly regional airport.”
The inaugural flight boasted 37 passengers on the 40-seat Bombardier CRJ-200 craft. Tupelo departures are at 6:30 a.m., 9:59 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Atlanta departures for Tupelo are at 9:19 a.m., 5:49 p.m. and 9:50 p.m. Delta officials said that Tupelo was a natural fit since Delta is the state’s largest air carrier. However, it has been a missing one despite Tupelo’s regional economic draw. Officials state that the realization of Delta’s Tupelo arrival is a reflection of the power of perseverance and patience over a period of several years in demonstrating Tupelo’s viability, as well as its need for additional service.
“You walk a fine line in getting the word out,” Anderson said of the airport’s efforts to maintain a dialogue for potential service over a span of several years. “We just tried to keep the Tupelo story in front of them by sharing various news items and positive events about new businesses or new developments. Our research also showed us that Tupelo was a ‘diamond in the rough’ and that the potential was there.”
While the impact of the September 11th terrorist attack and the general economics of the airline industry have presented many challenges in recent years, regional jet service has held its own, making the timing for Tupelo opportunistic. ASA, which serves 122 cities, has had a growth rate in the past five years somewhere in the 20% range, according to officials.
To date, Anderson said that he has received numerous favorable comments from passengers and potential passengers. While bookings have been steady, Anderson says that continued volume is imperative. Anderson said that beyond the obvious convenience of shorter driving distances, the addition of Delta provides another convenience in that both Northwest and Delta are members of SkyTeam and can reroute flights if, for example, weather problems occur.
While the increased flexibility is a plus for travelers, the reality moving forward is that numbers rule, making the “Fly Tupelo” proposition an ongoing marketing message.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at firstname.lastname@example.org.