Airport Authority forms LLC

As a carrot to attract airlines to McGhee Tyson Airport, the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority wants to begin taking over some airlines' traditional duties, such as baggage handling.

The Airport Authority has taken a key step toward assuming that business by forming a limited liability company that will employ workers to do those jobs.

In turn, McGhee Tyson could offer customers a higher level of service, such as returning lost luggage more quickly and efficiently, said Dave Conklin, vice president of marketing for the Airport Authority.

The Airport Authority last week formed Consolidated Airport Services LLC to perform aircraft handling and parking, baggage loading and unloading and cabin cleaning. The new company, which now can begin marketing its services to existing and potential airlines, could have about 80 employees if all airlines serving McGhee Tyson opt to take the service.

A report done for the Airport Authority by Maryville-based The Masters Group estimates the cost of Consolidated Airport Services to the authority would be about $3.3 million a year if all air carriers serving McGhee Tyson join in.

To recoup that cost, the authority would then charge the airlines for handling those services for them. Conklin said the intent is to break even on the new program.

A first phase of the new operation will be "under wing" services that include loading and unloading luggage.

"We would like to be successful with the first phase before we start any other" services, Conklin said.

The Airport Authority is joining other airports in taking over many duties typically performed by the airlines, which are cutting costs by streamlining operations and fiercely competing for every passenger dollar.

One of the authority's intents is to make McGhee Tyson attractive to other airlines by shedding costs for them. Also, the authority hopes it can handle the airlines' duties more cheaply by consolidating them under one company.

Other duties that could potentially be taken over by the authority include ticket-handling services at McGhee Tyson.

Airport officials are moving toward a centralized lost luggage system to deliver wayward bags to owners more efficiently and cut costs.

By taking over delivery duties from the airlines, the authority can centralize baggage recovery. That would allow it to take, for example, five bags to Sevier County in one trip as opposed to the different airlines delivering them individually. McGhee Tyson handles about 200,000 pieces of luggage a month.

Part of the new duties could include 24-hour service on lost luggage, which the airport does not have.

Now that the limited liability company is formed, Conklin said work can begin on marketing the program, which has been an emerging trend for midsize airports.

But launching the new program will depend on signing the first airline clients.

Conklin said some airlines already have expressed an interest in the arrangement.

The Airport Authority will meet with various airlines beginning in late August with the intent of having Consolidated Airport Services started in six to eight months.

Conklin said it is too early to tell what the salaries will be for the new employees, and how many there will be depends on how many airlines opt in.

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