Airport Improving to New Lows

Tupelo Regional Airport, stemming from poor planning and choices, is facing a dilemma. It’s a public airport paid for by the citizens’ taxes that is being run by a private business mentality. Half truths, falsehoods and misuse of public funds are the tools being used to deceive the public and the City Council. The winners are the private enterprises at Tupelo Regional who benefit directly from public grants and loans. And now our commercial air service has plummeted to an all-time low, less than 8,500 passenger boardings for 2012. Questions should be answered! Mother Nature cannot be blamed for ignorance and poor planning:

What is the problem with the Instrument Landing System Localizer that prevents Saab 340s from landing at Tupelo but allows other airplanes to successfully land? Was this known when the runway extension project began and, if so, why weren’t the travelers informed?

If it’s a problem of equipment relocation, what were/are the options? Usually these moves are planned for well before the construction project begins and is designed to take only weeks. Is that why the cost, even after changes, was lower than engineering estimates? Could there have been a lack of expertise at the helm of this ship to develop options?

The Daily Journal has reported for months from airport operations reports that the project was on schedule/time, yet the original estimate for completion was September 2012, then October, then December, then mid-February and now March…really? This along with the resulting Mother Nature cop-out excuse could all have been avoided with the 5Ps.

Why was Silver given a “near free ride” on airport rents and fees? Tupelo’s terminal rent is the lowest of similar sized airports and nearly half the amount that Delta paid. The “special refueling” costs were added so that the private group AMS Management would benefit, not the broke TAA. A quick sampling of other similar airport reporting shows that airport revenue from air service ranges from $80K to $100K exclusive of revenue from public parking, TSA and other terminal tenants.

Why wasn’t more effort applied to eliminate any route ties with another airport. Past experience with service tied to Muscle Shoals was a disaster. It was clear that with another small primary airport as the origination of the morning flight this service had little to no chance of being successful. Was this issue ignored or just missed?

Airport Officials have a lot of blame in this unless the Board was briefed on the poor chances of initial success. The Director’s initial assessment was that Silver was a great choice! His statements on the ticketing systems (which still are not seamless) were in error and the public was then asked to bear with the problems. Why didn’t he provide the shortfalls of inter-line agreements to the public? Instead people are experiencing overnights, some “in the boxes,” at Atlanta. And when people reach the Executive Director for assistance, he tells them he can’t help and to call the 1-800 number…Really? His solution is to bear with Silver’s poor performance….Really?

What do the rental car statistics have to do with the Silver service? Were they being provided so customers could drive to Atlanta? Statistics can prove anything, even the truth if the provider so chooses. Actually the large increase in revenue was due to the long training period for the Toyota plant.

This all leads to the most deceitful possibilities of all. Why was such an all out effort to put AIP funding, loans, grants and City subsidy to improve the private businesses on the airport at the expense of public services? If TAA loses the $1M a year entitlement like the Director’s comment “could drop…from primary airport status” alludes to, how will routine repairs and upgrades to the facilities be funded? How will a direly needed $600,000 fire truck and an airport wide resurfacing requirement be done on a $150,000 a year entitlement? Why even say “could”? Doesn’t he know?

Until the TAA Board gets intimately involved (oops, maybe they are) with the breeches of public trust, the inconsistency and errors in leases and financial reporting and the poor planning and execution of operational and administrative matters, the airport may soon be “grounded.” The airport is not flying “higher” and there has been little if any “win, win, win and win” in years. Stand-by for chapter 2, Financial Assessment.