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Tri-Cities Airport still open for business

Hank Hayes • Apr 6, 2020 at 8:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Tri-Cities Airport will remain open and retain all staff members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That announcement was made Monday during an Airport Authority Executive Committee meeting held on the internet via the Zoom app.

"I feel confident the airport is going to be able to weather the storm," Airport Authority Chairman Dr. Jon Smith said.

Airport Executive Director Gene Cossey also disclosed the airport expects to receive a $1.2 million relief package from the federal government, although there's no indication when it will come.

"We still have all our federal obligations to continue to operate no matter what the actual air traffic situation is," Cossey noted. "(But) we are seeing a huge decline on the air (passenger) side. ... The future is very fuzzy right now as where things are going for our airport."

The airport, Cossey also pointed out, expects to see a monthly $350,000 loss from reduced traffic.

The airport, said Marketing and Air Service Development Director Kristi Haulsee, has temporarily halted all marketing activities.

"It just wasn't appropriate to be advertising travel at this time," she reported. "The only place we are advertising is Expedia, and that's because people going there actually book trips. ... We are 85% down on our passenger numbers (but) people are still flying."

Airport offices have been closed to anyone not having an appointment. The airport restaurant operations also have closed.

Cossey also pointed out the Transportation Security Administration had been screening 2.2 million people per day prior to the pandemic, but that number has been reduced to 136,000.

" I can't understand what places like Atlanta would look like with that few people going in and out," Cossey said. "We do not expect the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to tell the airlines to stop flying and shut down the airspace. As you are aware, air travel is key to our security and safety. ... The airlines have been doing a lot of schedule cutting (but) it's hard for them to keep up with their network with what's happening across the board."

The airline industry, Cossey said, is expecting a slow recovery.

Despite the negative economic environment, the committee moved forward with a rental car facility rehabilitation project and buying additional parcels of land adjacent to the airfield.

Tri-Cities Airport offers Delta service to Atlanta, American service to Charlotte and Dallas-Fort Worth and Allegiant service to Florida.

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