TUPELO • For the first five months of the year, passenger boardings at Tupelo Regional Airport totaled 6,024, a 40 percent increase compared to the same period a year ago.
But the numbers are skewed by the fact Contour Airlnes was flying only nine-passenger Jetstream planes through April of last year before switching to 19-seat, twin-turboprop Jetstream in May. And in April of this year, Contour switched planes again, this time to a bigger, faster Embraer ERJ-135, a twin-engine jet with 30 seats.
And that switch pushed boardings to 1,429 last month, the most for Contour, and also the most in nearly a decade. In June of 2009, then-Mesaba airlines recorded 1,866 boardings.
The numbers should continue to rise, as the summer months have traditionally been higher-travel months.
Contour flies between Tupelo and Nashville, a connection that began in April 2016. The service is federally subsidized through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Essential Air Service program.
With the jet service, the number of roundtrip flights dropped from 30 to 18, but overall capacity increased. Flying the Jetstream, Contour could provide a maximum of 450 seats a week. By using the ERJ, up to 540 seats can be used, a 20 percent increase.
Since Contour service began, boardings have climbed steadily, from 5,913 in 2016 to 9,947 a year later and 12,948 last year.
The higher boarding figures also helped reduce the per-passenger subsidy to about $136 last month. EAS requires subsidies below $200 per passenger in order for cities/airports to remain in the program. Tupelo saw its cap hit about $330 in 2015.
EAS is funded by overflight fees that international air carriers pay without landing or taking off from the U.S., as well as congressional appropriations. Last year, EAS subsidized air service in 174 communities across the U.S. on a $288 million budget. About $133 million was paid for by the overflight fees, with the remainder paid via discretionary funding by Congress.