Tri-Cities Airport sees challenges after pandemic
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Consultants for Tri-Cities Airport Authority described the negative impacts that COVID-19 has had on the airport and their strategies for rebounding during a community meeting Tuesday at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce.
It was the first of three community meetings airports officials are holding this week to discuss the region’s air service with local officials and leaders.
The airport, and 400 other airports across the nation, have faced difficult times as a result of the pandemic, requiring calculated business decisions including cutting flight routes and investing in technological advancements, such as pilotless airplanes, said Kirk Lovell, a consultant with Mead and Hunt.
He said airline industry officials “don’t expect 20% of the business travel to return. … Prices (for gas) are higher than when we were generating record profits in the airline industry. … There’s a big pilot shortage and also a shortage of AP mechanics. What’s happening because of the shortage of pilots is you’re starting to see the small regional jets, 50 seaters, 70 seaters, becoming fewer and fewer because that same pilot that can fly that regional jet can also fly a big plane.”
In a survey conducted by Mead and Hunt, residents of the Tri-Cities listed their top 10 vacation destinations, with New York City, Las Vegas and Orlando taking the top spots.
But Lovell explained that the airport is only allowed to use its revenue on operational needs and services. The Federal Aviation Administration has strict regulations regarding the promotion of new airline routes and the many destinations the Tri-Cities airport offers, he added.
“You can’t spend the money on anything other than things related to the services and facilities of planes landing and taking off, no economic development, no specific marketing or advertising towards a specific carrier (airline) unless you’re within the incentive window, and there’s a special clause for that,” Lovell said. He added that airport officials must promote all the airlines in all the markets equally.
Gene Cossey, executive director of the Airport Authority, invited chamber members to assist them in revitalizing the airport and making the Tri-Cities a sought-after destination for visitors and businesses.
“We have a unique community, we have four different cities, two counties, all the outlier areas, everybody can be involved and put their resources and their efforts together,” Cossey said. “So we’re going to continue to ask you to come and support this airport — that’s your airport.”
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