TRI: Millions of dollars from CARES act will keep airport afloat post-pandemic

Local Coronavirus Coverage

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) Airports have been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Air travel started to plummet in March, as the virus spread worldwide.

Numbers from the TSA report that for the week of June 15, they saw an average of about 500,000 travelers a day. Compare that to the average of 2.5 million passengers per day this same time last year.

The loss is felt at the Tri-Cities Airport (TRI) as COVID-19 continues to make an impact.

“The pandemic has affected TRI like its affected all the airports. Air travel has come to almost a complete halt,” said Gene Cossey, executive director of the airport.

Throughout the pandemic, TRI has never stopped flights entirely. But, they have lost about 90 percent of normal passengers.

“We are required federally to continue to have the airport open and operating at all times and without that revenue stream coming in it obviously become extremely difficult,” said Cossey.

Before the outbreak, the airport was reporting steady growth; because of this, Cossey expects to bounce back quickly.

Here is where the help come in: the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, provides emergency assistance for people and businesses affected by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

TRI will receive up to 10.3 million dollars in funding to stay afloat, thanks to the legislation.

“We are hoping to see a good rebound quickly. But we are very glad that that money is there so we can use it even if the rebound is slow,” said Cossey.

Right now, leisure travel for the summer months is starting to pick back up.

But, the biggest problem the airport is facing is the lack of business travel.

Work trips make up the largest component of TRI travel. This is a huge loss for the airport as most workplaces are continuing to ground all business trips.

“We want to get the entire community back in, if you are gonna travel if you are gonna fly, fly out of Tri-Cities. That’s the most important things the airlines look at, is is the demand here,” said Cossey.

He added that keeping your flights local not only helps the airport rebound, but the entire region.

When airlines start to see a higher demand at TRI, they will begin to bring back the flights that were cut back due to the pandemic.

For July, several flights are already slated to return. By August airport leaders hope flight capacity will return to about 75 percent of where it was before. Then, by late fall the goal is full capacity.

More information about the Tri-Cities Airport and flights can be found here.

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