Meridian Regional Airport Lands American Eagle

July 24--The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved an air carrier that will offer two flights daily from Meridian Regional Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth.

American Eagle will provide service to both Meridian and Hattiesburg-Laurel airports with a Canadair Regional Jet 200.

The airline will be paid a $7 million annual subsidy to provide the air service to the two airports through the federal government's Essential Air Service program.

According to the U.S. DOT website, the Essential Air Service (EAS) program was put into place to guarantee the small communities that were served by certificated air carriers before deregulation are able to maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service.

American Eagle is providing the service through an agreement with ExpressJet, which was recommended last month by Meridian Mayor Percy Bland as the preferred carrier.

Unlike Silver Airways, American Eagle is approved by the federal government to fly members of the military. Silver Airways could not meet strict federal requirements that allowed members of the military to board its flights, forcing military personnel stationed at the 186th Air Refueling Wing and NAS Meridian to drive to Jackson for air service.

Meridian Airport Authority President Tom Williams said Wednesday he is not sure exactly how the $7 million in subsidy funds will be divided between the two airports, but he expects it would be split evenly between the two.

Williams said he is excited to see Meridian's transition from Silver Airways to ExpressJet.

"My feeling is relief really," Williams said. "Silver hurt us a lot. This is redemption from almost complete airline death. We have a chance for life again at Meridian's airport."

According to Williams, although U.S. DOT signed off on American Eagle, there is still a lot of work to be done.

"I am amazed at how involved this process is," Williams said. "Before the announcement we received a visit from their people who discussed office spaces, hotels, equipment, maintenance and much more. There are a lot of moving parts to this transition in getting a new airline. It is incredible."

Silver Airways replaced Delta Air Lines as Meridian's Regional Airport carrier in 2012 after Delta pulled out of Meridian, Hattiesburg-Laurel, and Tupelo markets.

Silver Airways notified the U.S. DOT in April that it intended to pull out of four Mississippi markets, including Hattiesburg Laurel, Meridian, Tupelo, and Greenville, as well as Muscle Shoals, Ala.

Silver Airways is continuing to service those areas until replacement carriers are found and approved.

Copyright 2014 - The Meridian Star, Miss.