(Hopefully this is okay to post)
FAA approves 30-plus passenger plane service at Tunica
TUNICA, Miss. - The Federal Aviation Administration will allow airplanes with 30 or more passengers to land at Tunica Airport, a move local officials said could bring a major discount air carrier to the facility.
The airport, with its 7,000-foot runway and existing all-weather landing capabilities, could begin taking on passenger jets as large as the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 - the primary fleet aircraft used by discount carriers like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways, respectively.
Tunica County spokesman Larry Liddell said officials have had talks with Dallas-based Southwest and New York-based JetBlue for about a year.
"We are hoping to get them and would love to have them, but the fact of the matter is we're just talking right now," Liddell said. "The new certification is a step in the right direction but that's all it is."
Tunica Airport executive director Cliff Nash said the certification indicates the FAA is "convinced" that Tunica has a market for larger aircraft.
"This is a significant accomplishment for the Tunica Airport because it represents the potential for expansion of air service and further development in the surrounding community," Nash said.
Larry Cox, chief executive of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, said the MSCAA has talked regularly with Southwest for 20 years and JetBlue since its founding, seeking a way to get one or both to Memphis.
"We would like them here as soon as we can get them, but those airlines are going to choose new markets carefully, and Memphis is a small origination and destination market," he said. "That is probably the primary reason we don't have one of those carriers here today - that and the fact that we do have a bunch of carriers here already."
Officials at other Mid-South airports say Tunica's changes should affect them little.
Metro Olive Branch Airport manager David Taylor said, "Physically we could handle the same size aircraft as Tunica right now, but that's not what we're after."
The Olive Branch Airport averages more than 300 takeoffs and landings per day - 12 times more than Tunica - making it one of the state's busiest municipal airfields.
A new $1.26 million air traffic control tower in Olive Branch has just been completed and will start working in mid-October.
"Each airport has its own niche," Taylor said. "In Tunica they have the gaming niche and in Millington they have the military niche. Our niche is corporate and business aviation.
"We're home to 252 private and corporate aircraft right now," he said. "I've been here for more than 20 years and we've never had an airliner land here and we never plan to have one."
The Tunica Airport has recently completed $33 million worth of expansions and upgrades to give the airport better all-weather capabilities.
The improvements include a new arrival and departure canopy, a new instrument landing system, new approach lights and a new Automated Weather Observation System. A new control tower is planned.