These are tough times for regional airports all across the country. Passenger volumes are down and routes are being slashed. Smaller airports must innovate to remain competitive.
That’s why it’s so disappointing to see one of those in charge of overseeing operations at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport acting as an obstacle to a plan to replace the airport’s commission with a more modern and practical airport authority. Airport Commissioner James “Moe” Brotherton opposes the move even though — as the NET News Service reported Sunday — he has yet to provide a valid reason for doing so.
Brotherton is also a Sullivan County commissioner and it was he who urged his colleagues on that board in 2008 to ground efforts to give those in charge of overseeing operations at the TCRA the power of independent decision making. Sullivan County commissioners should move now to rescind that disastrous decision.
As things stand now, TCRA commissioners have to get the approval of the facility’s six owners before applying for or accepting state and federal grants, or issuing bonds. This process can take nearly two months to complete — an eternity in today’s business world.
Moving to an airport authority gives officials of TCRA more freedom to act quickly, not only in applying for federal money, but in tough negotiations with air carriers. It’s a concept that has been embraced by every TCRA commissioner, except for Brotherton. His colleagues on the airport commission welcome the change as a way of competing in a rapidly changing business climate.
An airport authority would give those who oversee the facility more flexibility and a greater opportunity to expand services at the facility. From a business standpoint, creating an airport authority just makes good sense. It would provide TCRA officials with a freer hand in making important decisions, while freeing local governments from the liability of running an airport.
TCRA is the only one of the state’s six major airports (Chattanooga, Memphis, Jackson, Nashville and Knoxville) not to operate an airport authority. This distinction makes it more difficult for the Blountville airport to compete and attract carriers to the facility.