By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal
When Contour Airlines made its pitch two years ago to provide air service to Tupelo, company CEO Matt Chaifetz said it was important to bring back reliability, which had suffered enormously during the previous three years.
“Tupelo is a good fit for us, and we think we’re a good fit for Tupelo,” he said at the time.
As it turns out, the All-America City and airline have maintained a good partnership.
The results speak for themselves, said Chaifetz, who hopes that Tupelo Regional Airport officials will keep Contour as its carrier.
Contour is one of six airlines bidding to provide service in Tupelo after the current contract expires in March. The U.S. Department of Transportation has set an Oct. 19 deadline for comments to be submitted.
“We’re happy with the trends we’re seeing,” Chaifetz said. “We only began service 17 months ago and to still see traffic building is fantastic … We want to continue that momentum.”
The other airlines with bids are Air Choice One, Boutique Air, Sky Value Airways, Southern Airways Express and Via Air. They’re offering destinations including Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas, Memphis and Charlotte.
Contour is being paid a subsidy of $4.2 million a year to provide 30 round-trip flights a week between Tupelo and Nashville. Contour flies nine-passenger Jetstream planes, which were originally configured to seat 19.
The airline has cut its subsidy by $300,000 a year to $3.92 million to maintain its service, and is offering three options for the same price:
- 30 weekly flights to Nashville
- 24 weekly to Nashville and six weekly flights to Atlanta
- 18 weekly to Nashville and 12 weekly flights to Atlanta
Chaifetz said he has no preference as to which option the airport and city choose.
“We think five daily flights to Nashville works – it meets the business frequency that’s been needed,” he said. “We’ve established ourselves for the market, and we think we can generate about 9,600 to 9,700 enplanements alone this year.”
That number is critical, because if Tupelo Regional reaches 10,000 enplanements in a year – which includes charter flights – it is eligible to receive $1 million in federal grant money that can be used for capital infrastructure and safety projects. Anything below that, and an airport is eligible for only $150,000.
“We realize some people have a desire to fly to Atlanta, and we wanted the airport to know we’re prepared to offer that,” he said. “We think we can make it work. But we’re somewhat agnostic as far as our preference. We just want to let the airport and the people of Tupelo make that decision, and we’ll abide by their wishes.”
Tupelo Airport Authority member Jim Newman said he’s intrigued by a couple of the other bids, but says it may be hard to unseat the incumbent, Contour.
“They’ve done everything they’ve said they would do,” Newman said. “And the numbers are up to prove it.”
While airport officials haven’t yet picked a date to host a public forum to discuss the air service bids, Chaifetz said he looks forward to presenting his case.
“Our presentation will be that we’ve delivered on what we promised, and want to continue to do so,” he said.