BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tri-Cities Airport (TRI) is one of only 20 airports in the country to be awarded a special grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the airport authority hopes to use it to create a direct line to Chicago.

A release from TRI states the Small Community Air Service Development Program awarded the airport a $900,000 grant.

Airport leadership said they hope to use the grant to “incentivize an air carrier to provide nonstop service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport.” The grant will allow the Tri-Cities Airport Authority to cover start-up costs, marketing support and a minimum revenue guarantee to entice an airline to start the service.

“We are excited to be awarded the SCASDP grant and the opportunity it provides for our region,” Gene Cossey, executive director of Tri-Cities Airport, said in the release. “The grant can help us recruit an airline to provide this important connection for our community, and ultimately help stimulate additional economic growth for our region. It is important to note the grant is not a guarantee of service to Chicago. However, it is a new tool in our toolbox as we continue to persistently market the Chicago opportunity to carriers.”

The grants were awarded to airports based on factors such as higher than national average air fares, outside cash contributions and a need to restore lost air services.

Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger provided a statement in the release, saying the establishment of the service would boost tourism in Northeast Tennessee.

“I am thrilled to have played a role in supporting the possible establishment of a direct flight
between the Tri-Cities Airport and Chicago through the Small Community Air Service Development Program grant,” Harshbarger said. “Improving the lives of residents in East Tennessee remains my top priority as a legislator. A nonstop flight would enhance convenience for travelers, bolster tourism, and strengthen our business community.”