Tri-Cities Regional Airport seeking aviation-related companies for park

Hank Hayes • Jul 6, 2013 at 7:57 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Economic development potential is all coming together on the south-side airfield at Tri-Cities Regional Airport.

Business travel has paid most of the bills at TCRA during the years. Now the airport is on the verge of expanding that revenue base with aviation manufacturing on the south side.

Two south-side capital improvement projects — one of them complete — will give TCRA the capacity to create jobs on its own in the new Aviation Park.

Hamilton Road’s relocation on the airfield’s perimeter has been done, and it is open for traffic.

A federally funded $10 million, 2,800-foot final extension of “Taxiway R” — a south-side section of airfield pavement — is nearing completion and will provide a full parallel taxiway next to the main runway.

Money for the project comes from a combination of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) dollars, plus a 5 percent state match and 5 percent airport match. The federal grant doesn’t come from general tax revenue, but does come from fees paid by aviation system users in the form of airline ticket taxes, fuel taxes and passenger facility charges.

The runway extension and road relocation will open up about 175 acres of airport property for aviation-related economic development.

TCRA Trade Development Specialist Mark Canty’s main focus has been getting state certification for the site.

Certification, Canty noted, means it’s ready for development with utilities in place, plus environmental and legal issues being covered.

“This means the background has been done so the potential business doesn’t have to do all that and the site is ready to build on,” Canty said. “Our goal, obviously, is to recruit some type of aviation business. ... The land will have direct taxiway access. ... Everything we’ve done up until now is to prepare us to recruit businesses to the airport, and now we’re ready to begin doing that.”

TCRA is partnering with NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership to market the property.

Revenue from a growing south-side airfield would help TCRA deal with shrinking commercial ridership. The airport’s four main traditional source of revenues come from airlines, parking, rental cars and general aviation. Year to year, TCRA operates on a tight budget above $5 million with fewer than 50 full-time employees.

The airport already had other south-side support facilities in place — its $15 million Air Cargo Logistics Center, which has both speculative and office space, plus its Foreign Trade Zone operation including a U.S. Customs Port to receive imported goods. CSX and Norfolk Southern railways are also nearby and provide added logistic opportunities.

All the facilities, TCRA points out, are strategically located near Interstates 81 and 26 and within a day’s drive of 70 percent of the U.S. population.

TCRA and NETWORKS also point out the state of Tennessee has a jobs tax credit incentive, in addition to training assistance through its FastTrack Jobs Training program.

Canty mentioned the location would be a good fit for an aircraft maintenance and repair operation, aircraft/helicopter assembly and maintenance, or an aircraft helicopter engine assembly operation.

“We have always discussed light aviation and maintenance facilities,” Canty said.

There is also the light-sport aircraft industry, which is gaining ground with those who seek less maintenance and less strict flying requirements. FAA has defined light-sport aircraft as “simple-to-operate, easy-to-fly aircraft.”

For more about TCRA’s economic development effort go to www.triaviationpark.com or www.networkstn.com

You can also call (423) 367-2385 or (423) 279-7681.

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