BLOUNTVILLE - Tri-Cities Regional Airport commissioners gave the go-ahead Thursday to a proposal that would put the airport in the ground baggage handling and ticket counter business - jobs traditionally done by airline workers - to attract low-cost carrier Allegiant Air and new flights to Orlando, Fla.
"We feel like in today's airline environment, opportunities for new service are very rare," TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson said in advocating the proposal.
If Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air likes TCRA's proposal, the airline could start service at TCRA in late May or early June with two flights a week and one-way introductory fares of $39 to $49.
"The fares typically level out at $69 each way with some seats higher and others lower," a TCRA memo said. "These low fares significantly boost travel by those who would not typically choose to travel by air."
Allegiant sells tickets online at www.allegiantair.com, through its reservation center and through travel agents.
Allegiant, founded in 1997, operates a fleet of 130- to 150-seat planes going to Las Vegas, Orlando and Clearwater-St. Petersburg, Fla., from midsized and smaller airports across the nation.
The airline currently has Orlando service at Roanoke, Chattanooga and Knoxville, according to TCRA.
"When Allegiant initiated service, all three markets saw an immediate increase in passenger numbers," the TCRA memo said.
Airport officials also insisted Allegiant would not affect TCRA service to Orlando via Delta Connection, but they noted the airport's average leisure fare to Orlando in 2006 was $270 round trip. Delta's service to Orlando, said Wilson, is more focused on the business traveler.
"(Allegiant) would leave here on Friday and return on Monday in one scenario," Wilson said. "We have been talking with them since last August. ... It's a long process to try to engage their interest and how our market could benefit from them. ... With only two flights a week, it's not a situation where they would be able to set up their own station. They are very much focused on keeping their operating costs very low."
Under TCRA's proposal, the airport would invest more than $250,000 in ground handling services equipment and hiring new staff to take care of baggage and run a ticket counter.
Airport officials said they hoped the investment would entice other similar carriers to locate at TCRA.
"Having someone else provide those ramp services makes it easier for them to come into a market, but there is no guarantee they will stay," Wilson said.
The Allegiant proposal won unanimous approval after the late arrival of Commissioner John Gillenwater of Bristol, Tenn., gave the commission enough members for a quorum.
"We can't afford not to do this," Commissioner Dan Mahoney of Johnson City said of the proposal. "We may be using this (ground handling) equipment with the mainline (air) carriers in the future. ... I've talked to travel agents, and they think it won't affect our business with Delta."
For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.