TCRA ridership down 12.7 percent in 2006

Hank Hayes • Jan 22, 2007 at 9:03 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - Ridership figures at Tri-Cities Regional Airport went south in 2006.

TCRA announced Monday that the number of passengers traveling through the airport during the year declined 12.7 percent.

In a prepared release, airport officials noted ridership was impacted by increased security requirements, higher fares and a reduced number of available seats for sale.

TCRA ended the year with 420,252 passengers as opposed to 481,433 during 2005. For the fourth quarter, passenger numbers declined 10.1 percent as compared to the same period in 2005. For December, the dip was 5.4 percent, signaling a moderation in passenger declines.

"The busiest year on record was 2005 for passengers using Tri-Cities Regional Airport," said Patrick Wilson, TCRA executive director. "However, in 2006, industry pressures from record high fuel prices and airline cost-cutting measures prevented our market from maintaining the growth we experienced in 2005. This trend affected many communities across the country. As the airlines begin to return to financial stability, we feel the Tri-Cities market will be in a position to attract more flights and new air service."

TCRA has taken a stand against a US Airways-Delta Air Lines merger because airport officials feel it could lead to higher fares and fewer route choices for travelers. The two air carriers have a combined 87 percent market share at TCRA.

TCRA, meanwhile, remains in ongoing talks with various airlines to bring in new flights.

Airport officials are courting United Airlines to offer service to Washington Dulles, as well as engaging low-cost carrier Allegiant Air. In the Allegiant talks, TCRA is developing a proposal to include ground handling services to help the airline reduce costs.

TCRA recently rolled out its new online booking engine on its Web site (www.triflight.com) and is actively promoting it with a TV advertising campaign. The airport is also giving away more than 20,000 sorghum suckers to thank travelers and promote the booking engine.

Despite ridership being down for the year, TCRA remained in "good financial condition" at the end of the 2005-06 fiscal year, according to the airport's most recent audit.

Air cargo activity for 2006 increased sharply, with a portion of this increase resulting from a change in the way the cargo airlines track and report their shipments. Total landed weights and total aircraft movements during the year declined 11.6 percent and 11 percent respectively as compared to 2005. For the fourth quarter, air cargo activity increased 24.5 percent, according to TCRA.

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