Airport director sees ‘huge potential’ for growth

Hank Hayes • Feb 26, 2019 at 1:26 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — “There’s huge potential for air service growth. There’s a lot of potential passengers here waiting for us to have more service.”

That was an observation made on Monday by new Tri-Cities Airport Executive Director Gene Cossey after only one week on the job.

The main challenge in growing service, said Cossey, is the pilot shortage faced by the airlines.

Delta service to Atlanta, American service to Charlotte and Allegiant Air service to Florida are the airport’s current flight offerings.

Prior to accepting the position at Tri-Cities Airport, Cossey served as the executive director of the University of Illinois – Willard Airport. During Cossey’s three years at Willard Airport, he expanded air service, developed new concessions and revenue sources, worked to develop the first airport master plan in more than 40 years, and managed construction projects for new taxiways, airport lighting and roadways.

Cossey has worked in aviation operations management since he was a teen and held positions at five airports spanning more than 30 years. Cossey holds a Masters of Public Administration degree from the University of Illinois, Springfield and a bachelor's degree from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, majoring in business management and information systems design.

Cossey is an accredited airport executive with the American Association of Airport Executives and is an international airport professional with the Airport Council International.

Cossey addressed these questions:

What were your expectations when you took this job?

“I had positive expectations across the board, and I think they are going to be lived up to. There’s a lot of potential here in this community. It’s a very supportive community of the airport and the regional aspect of the airport being an overreaching community asset. I think that’s very important. An airport like this is going to be much more successful if the community recognizes the value as an asset. I can see already by the people I’ve interacted with and the news stories that I’ve read is this community really supports this airport and is really behind making this a successful airport. The more successful the airport can be, it can be more of a catalyst for economic development. The size of the population is perfect for growing and becoming a vibrant business center for eastern Tennessee and the area that surrounds us with Virginia and North Carolina. … There’s a potential for growth with the Aerospace Park. There’s so much work already done for it. All the hard work for Aerospace Park has already been done.”

Is there any one area you’ve seen that needs improvement?

“I think like any airport this size, the biggest challenge is the air service issue and the economic side of that. Obviously, I think this airport could do with a few more flights to a couple more destinations and some broader range on the low-cost carrier flights coming in and out of here. I think the community would support that growth. … Was there anything I looked at here that said ‘Oh my gosh, this needs fixed right away’? I do not see anything like that. … This is a great airport — how it’s been run and operated in the past.”

How would you describe your management style?

“I think my management style is one in which I try to lead the employees in the direction that best works for them. There’s a lot of talented people at this airport, and I think what we need to do to make sure they need to do for the organization is give them the resources and the training and the time to do their work.”

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