Meridian, Miss. During a news conference Wednesday, Meridian Mayor Percy Bland announced he's recommending ExpressJet to be the new air carrier for Meridian Regional Airport.
The recommendation is being submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
ExpressJet was one of two airlines to submit bids for Meridian's air service after Silver Airways announced it is leaving Meridian and several other cities in Mississippi. The other bid came from Aerodynamics Inc. Proposals from both air carriers are attached.
"This is a very big step forward for us today," said Bland.
By a unanimous vote, a 7-member panel is recommending the U.S. Department of Transportation approve ExpressJet.
Bland said ExpressJet's bid was far superior to that of its competitor and will boost the number of available seats from 34 to 50 on jet service, just as Delta Airlines did in the past. It's also set to partner with American Airlines, which is currently the largest airline in the world.
Airport officials say that ExpressjJet placed the lowest bid. Its proposal for Meridian is to provide two flights a day with possible stops in Hattiesburg and then connect to Dallas/Forth Worth. Both mayors from Laurel and Hattiesburg are endorsing the deal. Silver currently connects directly to Atlanta.
"We will work aggressively with American Airlines to ensure competitive pricing with the Jackson market," said Bland.
If the recommendation is approved, members of the military will once again be able to fly to and from Meridian Regional Airport.
"The day that Silver came in we lost 55% of our business and we attribute that mainly to the Navy business," said airport CEO Tom Williams. "The Navy needs good air service in Meridian. So, this is a huge benefit to them."
Bland credits the opportunity to continue air service in Meridian to almost 30 local business executives who wrote letters to the U.S. Department of Transportation expressing why the service is needed not only in Meridian, but also to help other parts of East Mississippi and West Alabama.
"We talked to some of our companies, like Yates, Thomason, Weyerhauser and the Pearl River Resort, and it's very, very important to them," said David Vowell, director of the Community Development Partnership in Neshoba County.
"We're trying to grow and do things in Kemper County," said economic development director, Crag Hitt. "And with that we need this air service."
"We like to forget that there's a state line there because we're all in this together," said Brenda Tuck of Marengo County (Ala.) Economic Development. "We're all in the same region, and we want to do as many things together as we can."
Silver Airways is set to remain open at Meridian Regional Airport until the new airline is operational. What's unknown is whether or not all of its employees will be hired with that new carrier. Something else that's unknown is whether or not more flights will be added.
Airport officials say they're optimistic that ExpressJet will be approved by the USDOT and operational by Nov. 1, 2014.