TUPELO • Contour Airlines it is.
After weighing the analysis of two airline consultant studies, talking amongst themselves and listening to Contour passengers and employees implore them to stick with the airline, the Tupelo Regional Airport board voted to recommend another contract with the airline.
Contour has been providing service since April 2016 between Tupelo and Nashville, and has had to renew its contract with the approval of the U.S. Department of Transportation every two years. Its current contract expires in September, and the past few airport board meetings have had the contract on its agenda.
On Friday, the board heard from Mike Mooney of Volaire Aviation Consulting. While his analysis did not provide a recommendation, he did say the priority of the board was, “You don’t want to step back.”
He was referring to three other airlines that had submitted bids offering connections via 9-passenger, single-engine planes. While Contour started service on a 9-passenger twin-engine plane four years ago, it eventually added back 10 seats and last April switched to a 30-seat regional jet.
After rejecting those bids, the board was left with proposals from Contour and SkyWest to consider.
For its next contract, which it hopes will be for four years, Contour is proposing 14 weekly roundtrips between Tupelo and Nashville, with an annual subsidy of $3.887 million. Contour will continue using ERJ135 and 145 30-passenger jets.
The board is seeking only a two-year contract, however.
SkyWest was offering 14 roundtrip flights between Tupelo and Houston and Chicago, with an annual subsidy of $3.524 million. How the flights were to be divided between Houston and Chicago were not specified in the proposal. The airline said it would fly CRJ-200 regional jets with 50 seats.
Four of the five board members were present, and three voted to go with Contour. The fourth member abstained.
Eric Gibens sided with Contour, noting what a Sixel Consultant study said if the airport switched to SkyWest: “It says our traveling population goes east, and we’re about to tell them to go west if we choose SkyWest. We tell them that, and Memphis is about to pick up a lot of business. We’re not serving an airline; we’re serving a community and they’re wanting to fly east.”
A handful of business owners also voiced their support for Contour.
Kevin Russell, a local DJ, said he’s flown Contour some 50 times.
“We don’t want to go backwards; there’s a lot of unknowns, but let’s go with what we do know,” he said. “Contour has basically delivered everything they said they would do. Nashville is a perfect hub for Tupelo for families and business.”
A couple of pilots who are based in Tupelo also thanked the board for their discussion.
The board has had no major issues with Contour over the years, but there has been some grumbling that the airline doesn’t buy fuel in Tupelo like it said it would. Its lack of marketing also has been noted in the past. But those are issues that can be worked out, board members said
Airport executive director Cliff Nash said Contour has been a good partner and said he anticipates it shouldn’t take long to get a new contract in place.
The next step is for Mooney to work on an air service agreement with Contour and submit it to the Transportation Department for review.
“I don’t see any issues with it whatsoever,” Nash said.