TUPELO, MISS. -- Commercial air service returns to Tupelo in March.
The U.S. Department of Transportation selected Corporate Flight Management to provide service in Tupelo with 30 nonstop round trips per week to Nashville International Airport.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1NCoCaG) Tupelo has been without an air carrier since Oct. 27, when SeaPort Airlines prematurely ended its service following nearly year-long complaints about its poor service.
The Tupelo Airport Authority unanimously selected Smyrna, Tennessee-based CFM to provide air taxi service using nine-passenger Jetstream planes.
CFM will be paid through the federal Essential Air Service program, which said it will pay the airline $4,292,405 each year, starting Feb. 1, 2016 through Feb. 28, 2018.
However, Matt Chaifetz, the CEO of the airline, said it will be March before service starts. With the Christmas and New Year's holiday approaching, many of the company's business partners and vendors will be unavailable. He said it's important to get all the details in order, including the schedule and marketing plans, before launching the service.
"We have the planes, we have most of the people," he said.
Chaifetz said it is important to begin marketing CFM's service and to reinforce the idea that the airline is vastly different from Tupelo's past two experiences with SeaPort and Silver.
"I know we have an uphill battle to climb, and we know it's not going to be easy at first," he said. "But I look forward to the challenge."
CFM is working with the airport to determine the best departure times between Tupelo and Nashville.
"We're not here to dictate what our schedule is going to be - we want to work with the community," he said. "We're working with a blank slate."
The airline will be an air taxi, ferrying passengers between Tupelo and Nashville. Those who want to fly beyond Nashville must buy separate tickets through any number of airlines including Delta, American, Southwest and United.
While the airport board had thrown its support behind CFM, it wasn't sure if the Transportation Department would agree with the more expensive but preferred option of 30 round-trip flights.
The agency acknowledged Corporate Flight Management's bid was "significantly more" than other bids.
"However, the department recognizes the poor service experienced over the last year and now the current service hiatus," the U.S. Department of Transportation stated in its order. "Given these factors, the department will give even greater weight to the views of the community than under normal circumstances. The Tupelo Regional Airport Authority's 'unanimous decision' to recommend CFM and the community's support of CFM will be essential in rebuilding passenger traffic."