Three airports getting connection change from Memphis to Atlanta

AROUND MISSISSIPPI — Three Mississippi cities that are losing their federally-subsidized air connections to Memphis will now be served through Atlanta.

Silver Airways Corp. will provide 12 flights a week between Atlanta and Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport. The airline will fly 18 times a week from Atlanta to Tupelo, continuing on to Greenville.

The communities had to seek new service when Mesaba Aviation, operating as Delta Connection, filed notice last year to end service to Memphis. Delta is paring service at the Memphis hub it inherited when it merged with Northwest Airlines, cutting regional feeder service to many cities.

The Mississippi communities went through two previous rounds of bids before agreeing to support Silver Airways. Earlier proposals featured service on smaller single-engine planes, when by law the communities are entitled to service on larger twin-engine planes.

The U.S. Transportation Department projects it will cost $2.97 million a year to subsidize service to Hattiesburg for a projected 20,825 passengers. That’s $142.41 per passenger. Subsidy costs for passengers in Greenville and Tupelo will be even higher, $7.04 million for 35,851 yearly passengers, or $196.50 a head.

Though many passengers drive to larger airports, local officials say commercial air service is important for business travelers and economic development.

“For each airport, this service is an important asset for supporting manufacturing, tourism and other economic development activities in our state,” said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

Delta Air Lines said it would be willing to work with Silver to allow flights to be booked through Delta and to allow passengers to earn frequent flier miles.

Silver Airways, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was formerly known as Gulfstream International Airlines. The company has also submitted a bid to fly to Meridian under the federal subsidy program. Federal officials also awarded contracts yesterday for Silver to fly to Muscle Shoals, Ala., and Lewisburg, W.V.

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