BLOUNTVILLE — Airport Authority commissioners decided Thursday to hold the line on airline landing fees and terminal rents at Tri-Cities Regional Airport while passing a $5.9 million spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.
TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson, in advocating the plan, projected landing fee revenue will go up because Delta Connection is using larger aircraft resulting in TCRA transporting about 2.6 percent more travelers.
Wilson also said those increased passenger volumes — totaling more than 206,000 travelers — will bring in more parking and rental car fees adding up to $6.3 million in projected revenue for the coming fiscal year.
Still, Airport Authority Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, Johnson City's mayor and a new member of the group, asked Wilson why they shouldn't at least consider a small rate increase for the airlines.
Airport Authority Commissioner Dan Mahoney of Johnson City gave Van Brocklin this historical perspective: "I can remember when the airlines didn't want to pay any landing fees, period."
TCRA is finishing the current fiscal year ending June 30 with $6.1 million in revenues against $5.7 million in expenses going slightly over budget because of harsh winter conditions.
"This speaks well for the airport and its efficiency," Mahoney said of the year-end budget outlook. "Ten years ago...we had a higher staffing level."
Indeed, the airport's spending plan in its coming operating budget suggests times remain lean — TCRA has gone from having 58 full-time employees in 2006 to 43 full timers today.
"Folks are working as hard as they possibly can...(and) we are having to rely more on outside contractors," Wilson said of the airport's workforce. "...Would the airlines allow us to increase (rates) two percent this year? They may, but we also don't want to give them an excuse not to continue their trends with bringing in larger jets. It's a gut feel of 'Let's try (holding fees firm) this year.'"
Wilson's projections could be negatively impacted by TCRA's planned $4 million terminal frontage makeover scheduled to begin this fall.
The makeover calls for the short-term parking lot to be razed and brought down to ground level while travelers use the long-term and overflow parking areas.
"We're trying to get a message out for travelers to arrive early," Wilson noted. "The blessing of larger aircraft is a good thing, and our convenience is a good thing. But it also can work against us particularly for the morning rush, those 5:30-7:30 flights...Passengers who come into the airport 30-40 minutes before their flight are causing some delays at the (security) checkpoint. They should arrive at least an hour early, particularly for those morning flights."
TCRA is served by Delta Connection flights to Atlanta, U.S. Airways Express flights to Charlotte and Allegiant Air service to two Florida markets.
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