BLOUNTVILLE — The post-Sept. 11 ride for Tri-Cities Regional Airport apparently remains bumpy while airport officials continue charting a course focusing on the things they can control.
“Everybody thinks we run the airlines. It’s the biggest misconception out there,” Commissioner Dan Mahoney of Johnson City said at TCRA’s last marketing committee meeting.
Everything that’s going well at TCRA — and not so well — seems to get aired at those marketing committee meetings.
During the last meeting, committee members listened to strategies for advertising campaigns, sweated over details concerning the future of TCRA’s restaurant operation, and vented about poor airline service.
Without question, the biggest negative has been ongoing flight delays experienced by travelers. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported that last July, the air carriers using TCRA had a 50.45 percent on-time arrival performance rating. A flight is considered delayed when it arrives 15 or more minutes later than scheduled, according to BTS.
“It’s been a tough summer all the way around. ... We’ve had a lot of not satisfactory (travelers) this summer. All of the carriers have had challenges,” said Melissa Thomas, TCRA’s director of marketing and air service development.
Flight drawdowns have also intersected with increased demand, TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson noted.
The committee’s chairman, Commissioner Jerry Repass of Sullivan County, suggested fewer seats may be available if airlines decide to reduce the number of flights going to major hubs.
Another negative, Repass noted, is widely fluctuating airfares.
“Everyone who talks to me ... it’s about cost,” he said.
Commissioners on the committee also pushed Wilson to bring on a new restaurant operator as soon as possible. The current operation is run by a vending company and has no mixed beverage service. Travelers want “the hot stuff,” one airport official said.
Nationally, market conditions appear to be on the upswing. A group of 21 selected passenger airlines reported a system operating profit margin of 8.8 percent in the second quarter of 2007, the highest profit margin since 2000 and the first time since 2000 that airlines have had five consecutive profitable quarters, BTS reported. The 21-carrier group consists of the seven largest network, low-cost and regional carriers based on operating revenue.
TCRA’s main bright spot continues to be the growth of its low-fare Allegiant Air service to Florida. In August, Allegiant announced TCRA-to-Fort Lauderdale service with $59 one-way airfares beginning Dec. 12. Allegiant has also announced a third weekly flight to Orlando-Sanford beginning Nov. 8 and has scheduled a fourth flight starting on Feb. 29, 2008, Thomas said.
“I’ve never seen an airline advertise like they do,” Thomas said. “They don’t mess around. We have to push hard that our flights are full.”
TCRA is doing a “Follow The Flock” promotion — using campy-looking pink flamingoes — to build buzz about Allegiant’s service.
“This is supposed to be fun service,” Thomas said.
As part of the promotion, Thomas said TCRA is partnering with Pal’s and will distribute yard flamingoes to be posted at various Pal’s drive-through locations.
Wilson noted TCRA recently passed the 10,000 mark on processing Allegiant passengers — without delays — with its new ground handling services department.
The next big air service opportunity, Thomas said, appears to be with Continental Airlines, which recently announced a major expansion of its Cleveland hub.
“They have told me they can see themselves at Tri-Cities,” Thomas said of Continental.
For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.