Airport seeks rate increase from air carriers

Hank Hayes • Jun 15, 2013 at 5:59 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Tri-Cities Regional Airport is seeking about a three percent rate increase from its air carriers to help offset declining ridership.

The planned new rate structure covers landing fees, apron charges and terminal space rent and is included in TCRA’s proposed $5.6 million budget for the coming fiscal year beginning July 1.

“In comparison to what (airlines) have seen at other airports, we’re very reasonable,” acting TCRA Executive Director David Jones said of the rate structure to airport authority commissioners at a recent Administration/Operations Committee meeting.

TCRA’s airlines include Allegiant Air service to two Florida markets, Delta Connection service to Atlanta and U.S. Airways Express service to Charlotte.

In 2012, TCRA reported a 5.9 percent decline in passengers with the number of available seats declining 6.8 percent. More than 421,000 passengers used the airport. Historically, business travel has accounted for about 60 percent of TCRA’s customer base.

Airline revenue accounts for more than 30 percent of TCRA’s operating budget. The three other main revenue sources are parking, rental cars and general aviation.

Year-end expenses won’t exceed revenues in the airport’s existing $5.5 million budget, acting Finance Director Larry Bailey told commissioners.

“The projected year-end expenditures reflects a very conservative operation for the fiscal year. Most categories of expenditures are projected to be less than the amounts budgeted...this should turn in to be a very significant year for the airport financially,” a TCRA memo told commissioners.

While reviewing the numbers, Airport Authority Commissioner Joe Wilson of Washington County observed: “I’ve dealt with government budgets for years and everyplace I’ve seen, whenever June comes, purchase orders increase like crazy and they’re trying to get rid of their budget.”

Among the challenges for the coming fiscal year is an anticipated $67,000 loss of airline revenue due to TCRA’s main runway being closed two weekends this fall for repaving.

Current capital projects, meanwhile, are wrapping up on the airfield’s south side. Jones said Hamilton Road has been relocated and is open for traffic. That move opens up airfield land for aviation-related economic development.

A nearby taxiway extension, plus the widening of Highway 75 in front of TCRA, are also heading toward being complete, Jones said.

Airport operations are also awaiting a new leader to replace outgoing Executive Director Patrick Wilson, who left during the spring to take a position at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

The same executive search firm that found a new job for Wilson is attempting to find his replacement. ADK Executive Search of Atlantic Beach, Fla., has been seeking and vetting TCRA executive director replacement candidates.

Interviews are expected to begin next month.

For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.

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