Four airlines interested in serving Tupelo

TUPELO -- At least four airlines are expected to submit bids to provide air service in Tupelo.

"We'll know by Oct. 28," said Tupelo Regional Airport executive director Cliff Nash, referring to the day bids are due to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

An airline consultant is working with the Tupelo Airport Authority to gather interest from airlines to submit RFQs (requests for proposal) to the DOT, which would subsidize the service through the Essential Air Service program.

SeaPort last year agreed to a two-year contract to provide 30 weekly roundtrip flights to Nashville and Memphis from Tupelo for $2.5 million a year, but the service has been plagued by late flights and cancelations since operations began last October. Last month, only 28 passengers flew out of Tupelo.

Nash said he hopes to land an airline that will allow customers to go to any website, find a flight, check in luggage and get to a hub where they can continue to fly on to their final destinations. With SeaPort, passengers have had to book flights separately with another airline, using SeaPort essentially as an air taxi to get from one airport to another.

SeaPort requested in August that it end its service this Friday. But the DOT last month ordered it to continue flying through Dec. 28. However, that message hasn't apparently been filtered down to the SeaPort employees in Tupelo, who said they've been told Friday is their last day.

Executives with the airline could not be immediately reached for comment.

"We've only heard from the Department of Transportation, and that's who we're going by," Nash said.

SeaPort also owes the Tupelo Airport Authority about $20,000 in late fees and rent, the airport board was told.

It's not the first time SeaPort has been late with its payments, but Nash said he was confident SeaPort would pay its bills "as they have paid in the past."