Oct. 25--BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. -- A consultant told the Tri-Cities Regional Airport Authority Board Thursday that the airport could benefit if a planned merger between US Airways and American Airlines is approved.
The airport lost a flight to Chicago when American Airlines filed for bankruptcy in 2011. As part of a path out of bankruptcy, American is proposing a merger with US Airways.
Sixel Consulting Group Air Strategy and Development Consultant Michael Lum said a merger could help Tri-Cities get the Chicago route back or a flight to Dallas , because there is very little overlap between the two airlines. But that merger might not happen. The U.S. Department of Justice is trying to block the merger, which would create the world's largest airline.
"The Justice Department's argument is fares would go up because there won't be a bottom feeder [airline]," Lum said, adding, "They believe the airline industry is merged enough."
His remarks were part of a larger presentation about commercial air service at the airport.
The local airport has done a good job of limiting the number of people who live in the Mountain Empire but choose to fly out of Charlotte , N.C. , Knoxville , Tenn. , or other airports in the region, Lum said.
The airport retains 58.2 percent of air travelers. Charlotte gains the most amount of business from people who live in the region. According to data Lum collected, 26 percent of Mountain Empire residents fly out of Charlotte and 11.1 percent fly out of Knoxville .
"This number, for an airport this size, is not bad," Lum said. "It could be better."
Board member Ken Maness said he was pleased with the number and assumed more people flew out of the other airports.
Lum said the challenge for any airport is the declining number of available seats. Airlines have reduced the number of flights while increasing ticket prices.
"It's supply and demand," Lum said.
Ticket prices out of Tri-Cities have increased 37.1 percent since 2005. The price of an average one-way ticket has increased from $179 to $245.
"Fares had to come up in order for the airlines to make money," Lum said.
Those fares are fairly similar to the rates in Charlotte , adding some people might drive to Charlotte for international or direct flights but he did not believe airfare was the main driver.
The overall number of passengers who fly out of Tri-Cities and the other regional airport hasn't changed significantly despite the price increases, Lum said, noting that shows that people are paying the higher prices.
Airport Director Patrick Wilson said the airline industry has changed significantly over the past couple of years and the airport must adjust. Tri-Cities will soon start a marketing campaign that encourages people to fly out of the local airport.
"We are at a crossroads in the airline industry," Wilson said.
Copyright 2013 - Bristol Herald Courier, Va.
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