Southwest Airlines’ 7:05 p.m. Saturday flight to Houston’s Hobby International Airport brought to a close Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International’s 17-year relationship with the Dallas-based carrier.
The elimination also marks the airline’s first severing of service to a second-tier market serving a population of over 500,000 people. The only other two service closings occurred in Denver and Detroit, though in 1973 early in Southwest’s life as a Texas commuter airline it ceased service to Beaumont, said spokesman Brad Hawkins.
It would be a mistake, however, to attribute the service shutdown to the Central Mississippi market Medgar-Evers International serves, said commercial aviation consultant Michael Boyd, who has worked with the Jackson airport.
Iot is more a reflection of the increased cost of doing business, said Boyd, principal of Evergreen, Colo.-based Boyd Group International.
“The carriers serving Jackson are running over all around and 80 percent load factor,” he said in an email Friday. “ load factor. “Remember that the Southwest decision was made due to issues at the carrier, not at Jackson. Southwest could do well at Jackson in the past at load factors in the 65 percent – 70 percent range. But their costs have gone up to the point where they have to make decisions on where they put their airplanes.”
Jackson’s importance to the Mississippi air access picture is now even higher, with the uncertain future of service provided by Silver Airways, a carrier that receives federal subsidies for serving Mississippi’s under-served market and wants out of contracts for some markets in the state, Boyd said. .
“Tupelo, Meridian, and Hattiesburg now have essentially no viable scheduled air service. The Silver Airways flights simply could not offer access to the rest of the world, and with just two to three flights a day, the drive to Jackson still could mean less travel time, rather than wait for a inconvenient departure time and poor connectivity at Atlanta. Regardless of what carrier might replace Silver at these points, Jackson will still be the air gateway for those regions.”
Hawkins, the Southwest spokesman, said the airline considers the departure from Jackson “semi-permanent,” but has not ruled out a future return.
“I wouldn’t shut the door on our future operations but the current economics” are not right, Hawkins said.
He said years of charting Southwest passenger loads to and from Jackson led executives to conclude the destination was no logner financuially feasible to serve. “We saw waning demand,” he said in a December interview the airline announced its elimination of Jackson service.
Passengers counts came in significantly below Southwest’s expectations, according to Hawkins.’