(February 26, 2013) – SeaPort Airlines announced that its contract to provide Essential Air Service (“EAS”) at McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport has been extended by the US Department of Transportation through January 31, 2014. The carrier had been awarded a one-year, rather than the typical two-year contract, due to the low number of passengers that used the flights operated by the previous carrier providing EAS, which had put Jackson’s continued eligibility for subsidized air service at risk.
“We are very pleased that DOT has extended our contract for another year at McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport, as it reflects on the progress we have made rebuilding the traffic in the Jackson market,” said Rob McKinney, SeaPort’s president. “Nonetheless, we will continue to focus on achieving an average of 10 passenger enplanements per day to help secure Jackson’s future in the EAS program.”
McKinney referred to changes made by Congress to the EAS program that were included in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, requiring an average of at least 10 passenger enplanements per day to maintain eligibility for flights subsidized by the EAS program. As the DOT noted in its Order Extending Service Period published on February 25, 2013: “For the most recent fiscal year for which data is available, FY2012 (October 2011-September 2012), Jackson generated a total of 2,449 passengers (inbound and outbound), or an average of 3.9 enplanements per day.” The DOT went on to state: “The community and carrier will need to attract enough passengers to meet the 10 enplanements per day statutory requirement in order for Jackson to remain eligible.”
SeaPort Airlines launched service at McKeller-Sipes Regional Airport on January 22, 2012 and for the full year ending January 23, 2013 it carried a total of 3,077 passengers. This was 246% greater than the 890 passengers carried by Tennessee Skies during its last full year of service at Jackson.
“While we are proud of the enplanement growth we have been able to achieve, there is still much work to be done. The recent changes to EAS eligibility requirements by Congress truly make air service at McKellar-Sipes a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition,” said McKinney. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with the airport authority and other leaders in the community as we work to secure Jackson’s air service in the future.”
Earlier this year, SeaPort set the fare on every seat and every flight departing Jackson at $35, including taxes and fees, a price that McKinney noted was less than the cost of driving to Nashville and even more compelling when the free parking at McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport is considered. Each business day, SeaPort provides two roundtrips to Nashville and two roundtrips to Memphis. Reduced frequencies are offered on weekends.
McKinney will travel to Jackson next month to make presentations to civic organizations and meet with large generators of air traffic demand in area. During its first year of service, SeaPort Airlines became a sponsor of the Jackson Generals baseball team, a relationship that is anticipated to continue during the upcoming season. The carrier also sponsored the Miss Tennessee Scholarship Pageant, American Cancer Society Relay for Life, and partnered with Donnell Century Farms for its annual Easter egg hunt.