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Official downplay report that Tri-Cities Airport on service cutback list

Hank Hayes • Jul 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Tri-Cities Regional Airport officials tried Tuesday to reassure the traveling public that its doors will continue to be open for business despite current adverse market conditions.

“We are confident that TCRA will continue to provide air service to the region,” Patrick Wilson, TCRA’s executive director, said in a prepared release. “TCRA has had commercial air service since 1935. We don’t see that changing in the future. People can book tickets from TRI with confidence that the airlines will continue to serve this market.”

A recent Business Travel Coalition (BTC) news release listing TCRA among 100 regional airports at risk of losing air service was “alarming, but somewhat misleading,” according to Melissa Thomas, director of marketing and air service development at TCRA.

The BTC report has worried some residents, but it is important to note that this trade group made broad statements to draw attention to the need for action and policy without providing specific data and analysis for individual airports, Thomas noted.

All of TCRA’s “peer airports” — in Asheville, N.C., Roanoke, Va., Greenville, S.C., and Knoxville and Chattanooga in East Tennessee — were also on BTC’s at-risk list.

“It is true that the airlines are suffering from the rapid increase in the cost of fuel and are reducing flights across the country. In that regard, most airports in the country will lose some service,” Thomas said. “Losing some service does not mean losing all service. At TRI, we expect an approximate 11 percent reduction in the number of seats available per week when the peak summer travel season ends in September, but otherwise, our service appears to be stable.

“Even with the airlines making schedule changes to overcome the record cost of fuel, passengers who can book their travel at least 14 days in advance can find some attractive fares and good travel options.”

At TCRA, Delta is expected to be the air carrier cutting back, Thomas said in an e-mail. Delta Connection currently offers service to Atlanta and Cincinnati from TCRA.

The Boyd Group, a Colorado-based consulting group that has served TCRA in the past, suggested those airports dependent upon 50-passenger regional jet service may have the most to lose. Both Delta Connection and U.S. Airways uses that type of aircraft at TCRA, according to the airport’s Web site (www.triflight.com).

“In the last two weeks, longer-haul (regional jet) feed markets have been going down like targets at a penny arcade. The reason is that the pennies — cost v. feed value — no longer make sense,” the consulting group said in its weekly “Hot Flash” of aviation news.

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