Tri-Cities Regional Airport focuses on improvements

By Abby Morris
star staff

Despite recent turmoil in the airline industry since the second largest commercial airline, United Airlines, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, officials at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport remain positive that the airport can face the challenges ahead.
   "What we have to deal with is an industry in turmoil," said John Hanlin, executive director of TRA. "We are going to see the impacts of those situations for years to come."
   Dan Mahoney, chairman of the Tri-Cities Airport Commission, stated that, thus far, the problems of the major airlines have not had a negative affect on TRA. "This airport is running smoothly," he said. "It runs smoothly even when major airlines are going bankrupt."
   The events of Sept. 11, 2001, have had some impact on the way commercial airlines do business, but all of the problems currently faced by the industry are not a result of those events, according to Hanlin. "You have bloated costs as far as labor in the industry and as far as some of the vendors," he said.
   Hanlin also cited some of the services offered by commercial airlines, the way those airlines treat business travelers, and the increasing costs of traveling as causes to the downturn of the industry. "All of those things have got to change," he said.
   According to Melissa Thomas, director of marketing and air service development at TRA, the airport has seen some changes in the way it does business due to the slow in the airline industry. "This is a very turbulent time in the airline industry," she said.
   Thomas said that there has been a slight reduction in the number of connector flights available through some of the airlines which service the TRA and there has also been a change in the way those flights are operated.
   "You will have seen in the last year or so a reduction in the number of regional jets and the replacement of those regional jets with props," Thomas said. "We don't like it, but it's something we have to deal with.
   "It's going to be a bumpy year for air service."
   According to Thomas, the commercial airlines are replacing the regional jets with prop airplanes in an effort to reduce costs by moving the regional jets to areas where they will be more cost effective.
   Even with such changes looming ahead, Thomas said the airport continues to focus on improvements. "Right now, our main focus is to make sure our current services are stable and competitively priced," she said.
   According to Hanlin, the airport is ready to meet the challenges ahead by redirecting its energies. "The Airport Commission has been focusing on those things we have direct control over," he said. He cited improvements to the airport's facilities and the services offered to customers as two of those areas.
   One such improvement the airport has made was the opening of a new $6 million concourse last year. "That is one of the major initiatives as far as passenger comfort and safety," Hanlin said.
   In addition, TRA is one of only a few smaller airports in the country that still offers shuttle services for travelers even though the parking areas are easily accessible. The airport also offers baggage assistance to travelers.
   One of the newest features added to the airport terminal has been the installation of wireless Internet hook ups and Internet terminals for passengers to use.
   Plans for future improvements include the relocation of the rental car pick up and return lot closer to the terminal and expansion of the parking lots.