Small airports face difficulties
Posted: Monday, July 7, 2008 11:20 am
By: By The Associated Press
The Messenger 07.07.08
BLOUNTVILLE (AP) — The Business Travel Coalition has included Tri-Cities Regional Airport, Knoxville’s McGhee Tyson Airport and Chattanooga’s Lovell Field on a list of airports at risk of losing service.
TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson told airport commissioners last week that officials at small airports across the country are very concerned about those airports’ survival.
In a memo to commissioners earlier this month, Wilson said none of the TCRA’s existing carriers has given notice that they will significantly reduce the number of flights in and out of the Tri-Cities, but he said the industry is in a volatile state and predicting the future is difficult.
The airport currently has service to seven destinations on four carriers — Delta Connection, Northwest Airlink, US Airways and Allegiant.
Officials are awaiting a consultant’s report on the effects of a Delta-Northwest merger expected to be completed later this year, but the Business Travel Coalition has said cities served by both Northwest and Delta are likely to lose service.
However, Delta issued a statement last week saying the merger “will create a more durable airline with a greater likelihood of maintaining service to small communities than either standalone.”
Some other airlines are likely to go under, according to the coalition, because of fuel prices and the tight credit market.
“The fuel crisis is having an impact beyond the gas pump and is now likely to cause irreparable harm to businesses large and small through a significant reduction in air service,” coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell said in a news release.
Amid rising fuel prices, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Air-port at Lovell Field lost the services of AirBus in April and Continental has announced it will end Chattanooga-Houston flights in September.
Mary Rhoden of the Tennessee Valley Travel Agency in Chattanooga told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that recent news isn’t good for the airport or the industry.
“It’s no reflection on the airport or who runs it,” she said. “It’s purely the price of oil.”
Despite the doom and gloom in the industry, Tri-Cities Regional Airport’s ridership was up 8 percent in first quarter of the year compared to the same quarter last year. That’s mostly thanks to the addition of low-fare Allegiant Air service to Florida that began in May 2007.
But Wilson’s proposed operating budget for the coming fiscal year predicts negative passenger growth.