AUTHOR: MARTY

NEW AIR CARRIER COULD BE MESA OR U.S. EXPRESS

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

While officials say they still are not certain under what name a proposed new air carrier in Tupelo would operate, they announced Thursday that the parent company is Mesa Airline of Farmington, N.M.

City and county officials are expected to vote Monday on whether to put up a combined $400,000 to guarantee the new airline a profit should boardings initially fall below what are needed to be profitable. Officials had originally said they did not want to name the company because the airline planned an announcement itself.

However, Jim Newman, the marketing director for the Tupelo Regional Airport, admitted Thursday that Mesa is the company under consideration. Whether the airline operates under that name in the Tupelo market remains to be seen, he said.

"They are affiliated with U.S. Airways, United and America West and fly as Mesa in the Southwest," Newman said. "But they also operate U.S. Express."

He said the company could start operations in Tupelo as Mesa and switch to U.S. Express at some point in the future.

Tupelo has been seeking a replacement for American Eagle, which pulled out of the city in January 1996 when American Airlines closed its Nashville hub, leaving the city with only one carrier, Northwest Air Link.

Under the proposed agreement, the city and county would put up $200,000 each to be placed in a fund administered by Three Rivers Planning and Development District. The money would be used to cover any shortfalls in the number of passengers that would be required to make the new airline route profitable.

Mesa, or U.S. Express, would operate three flights a day out of Tupelo to Nashville where passengers could hook up with low-fare carrier Southwest. A one-way trip to Nashville on the new carrier would cost about $65.

Officials have said the shortfall fund is intended only to help the new airline get started with the airline absorbing all startup costs. Once the route becomes profitable, the money in the shortfall fund would be returned to the city and county.

However, if the new carrier is not successful, officials said they would not seek additional shortfall funds but would accept the fact that Tupelo's proximity to the Memphis airport makes it unable to support two carriers.

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