KINGSPORT – Tri-Cities Airport is ready to enter into a partnership with the local business community.
The Tri-Cities Airport Authority hosted community meetings this week in Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport. Kingsport’s meeting at MeadowView on Wednesday focused on the airport’s service strategy – and an emphasis on partnering with community stakeholders.
“The community is the one driving this growth with the airport,” said Kirk Lovell, general manager of air services consulting for Mead & Hunt. “It helps to find this strategy in the next markets and to get buy-in from everyone.”
The airport depends in part on support from the business community due to its marketing restrictions, said Gene Cossey, executive director of the Tri-Cities Airport Authority. Executives like Cossey are not allowed to market specific flights unless a new flight is added. In this case, Lovell said, the marketing of new flights is limited to a set period. It is these marketing restrictions that bring airports to the business community.
“Gene can market the aerospace fleet, the airport and its facilities, but he cannot market it for general economic development and regional development,” Lovell said. “This is exactly why we are bringing this idea to the community at large.
“The community can form a group independent of the airport. Typically you have more reach as a chamber or (destination marketing organization). You can do a lot more and be a lot more specific than Gene and the airport.
Before considering future partnerships, however, airport executives also detailed recent aviation issues.
Airlines posted record revenues in 2019, Lovell said, but the pandemic, along with rising oil costs, has had an impact on costs and revenues.
Across the country, the industry has also experienced a severe labor shortage in many aviation positions.
“The airline industry has been dealing with this for quite some time,” Lovell said. “Before, it took 250 flight hours to be certified. Years ago that changed. You must have at least 1,500 hours in the air. It is cheaper to become a doctor than to become a pilot in many cases.
Tri-Cities Airport is also considering future opportunities, one being the future Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Bristol.
“They didn’t take this decision lightly to come here,” said Lovell, referring to the executives who worked to bring the casino project to Bristol. “There is obviously a clear reason why they know they can make a lot of money. So we’re really trying to sow the seed that we want to be a part of those conversations and help dictate which airlines fly here. “
Airport executives have spoken to the Hard Rock team, Cossey said, and plan to continue conversations with the group in the future.
“We are reaching out in any way we can,” he said. “We are working as much as possible on marketing with Hard Rock, but again we have some limitations on what we can do. “
Going forward, Tri-Cities Airport will also conduct a survey of the business community to understand where local businesses want to fly. Officials also said they plan to hold future meetings with local stakeholders in an ongoing effort to work with the community.
“This is your airport,” Cossey said. “I’m just here to run it for you. It is your investment. Participation is what makes the difference. … Not only do we have a strong business environment throughout the region, but we also have people moving here and growing businesses. People are fleeing from the big cities. There are a ton of opportunities.