Search for TCRA executive director down to three finalists

Hank Hayes • Jun 28, 2013 at 10:55 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Three finalists will vie for the executive director’s position at Tri-Cities Regional Airport.

Their names were not released at last Thursday’s Airport Authority meeting.

“Interviews will be conducted (by a TCRA search committee) on July 8 of the candidates who were recommended by the (Florida-based) ADK search firm,” TCRA legal counsel Bill Bovender told Airport Authority commissioners. “That’s an open meeting. ... That’s about all.”

Interim TCRA Executive Director David Jones, who has served as the airport’s director of operations, also disclosed he will not be a candidate for the top leadership post.

The next TCRA executive director is expected to receive a base annual salary of between $120,000 and $150,000, according to Airport Authority Chairman Jim Rector, who represents Bristol, Va.

The person getting the job will succeed Patrick Wilson, who left TCRA after eight years to take an administrative position at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

TCRA’s new leader will face a challenging commercial aviation economy marked by consolidating airlines and reduced seat capacity.

TCRA is seeking about a three percent rate increase from its air carriers — Allegiant Air, U.S. Airways Express and Delta Connection — to help offset declining ridership.

The new rate structure covers landing fees and terminal space rent, and is included in the TCRA Authority-approved $5.6 million budget for the coming fiscal year.

“It’s a very lean operation here,” TCRA interim Finance Director Larry Bailey told Authority commissioners.

Jones said he does not anticipate air carriers will oppose the rate increase.

“These rates could come down if more aircraft come in,” Jones noted.

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. Business travel has historically accounted for about 60 percent of TCRA’s customer base.

Melissa Thomas, TCRA’s director of Marketing and Air Service Development, expressed confidence the airport’s number of flights could grow.

“U.S. Airways and Delta are still very pleased with the service and operation they have at Tri-Cities. So is Allegiant,” she told Authority commissioners. “... We are watching closely the merger between U.S. Airways and American (Airlines). I think that will open up some possibilities for some additional service and destinations — eventually. There’s not really a timeline on that. It could bode well for us in the future. We also continue to talk with Allegiant about some new destinations. It’s hard to be patient but we continue to work on these things, and it takes time.”

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.

Challenges for the coming fiscal year include an anticipated $67,000 loss of airline revenue due to TCRA’s main runway being closed two weekends this September for repaving. The airport will lose more than 20 flights from those weekends, Jones said.

Capital projects, in the meantime, are wrapping up on the airfield’s south side. Hamilton Road has been relocated and is open for traffic. That move opens up land for aviation-related development next to the airport’s Air Cargo center. The property has taxiway and utilities access.

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

For more about TCRA’s south side economic development opportunities, go to www.triaviationpark.com.

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