Tri-Cities sees reduced American Airlines flights for March |

BLOUNTVILLE — Travelers aiming for a spring break destination might see reduced flight options next month.

American Airlines is set to reduce its flights in March, said Kristi Haulsee, the Tri-Cities Airport Authority director of marketing and air service development. The air service looks to cut flights, Haulsee said, as a result of staffing shortages among other recent aviation challenges.

“Because of pilot issues and crew staffing issues they are reducing services in a lot of markets — one of those is here,” Haulsee said at the TCAA meeting on Thursday. “We will only have one flight to Dallas and on some days only one flight to Charlotte. So it’s a serious reduction for the month of March.”

Those flights are expected to return to a regular schedule on April 5. However, you might say the timing is a bit odd, Haulsee said, as spring break months often offer an increase in travel following decreased flights in the winter.

“It’s just an unusual circumstance,” Haulsee said. “It’s a spring break month so it’s normally a time that we would see our capacity increase as passengers haven’t been traveling as much in the wintertime. It’s unfortunately an impact of what the airlines have been through in the last couple of years due to the pandemic.”

Pilot shortages, labor strikes and fuel costs are among the numerous obstacles plaguing the aviation industry.

However, the Tri-Cities airport has seen an increase in revenue and a decrease in expenses.

Airport revenue is over budget by $893,560 or 32.87%, according to TCAA Director of Finance Rene Weber, who offered a financial report at the Thursday meeting. Meanwhile, expenses are under the budget by $201,614 or 5.3%. Weber also said passenger traffic is up 94.3% year to date.

Though American Airlines has reduced its flights for March, other flights are cropping up at the Tri-Cities Airport, such as the Allegiant flight to St. Petersburg, Florida, that will start on May 27 and ends on Aug. 15.

“Because that’s sort of a short season with us, it’s hard to get people to remember that,” Haulsee told the Times News. “We are lucky to have that flight during the summer months.”

Dual class service for American Airlines’ Dallas flight will also begin mid May, Haulsee said, as well as some dual class flights to Charlotte starting in June.

“The fact we have dual class service in our market throughout the summer is a big deal coming out of (COVID-19) and the recovery we’re experiencing in passenger numbers.“That’s really good to see as well,” she said.

Bristol Motor Speed-way’s spring race has also increased flights to the Tri-Cities, Haulsee said. The race will take place in April when American Airlines has increased flights to the Northeast Tennessee region to accommodate the influx of visitors.

“That is something that we have been very fortunate the airlines have recognized,” Haulsee said. “The passenger increase during the NASCAR races both in the spring and the fall, we haven’t seen that in the last few years, but we’re fortunate that they’re seeing an uptick in bookings around race time.”

Moving ahead, the airport will aim for a continued conservative approach, TCAA Executive Director Gene Cossey said on Thursday. That decision factors in a slew of variables — from pandemic woes to recent foreign affairs.

“We are seeing indications that there are still going to be fluctuations in passenger traffic, airline traffic,” Cossey said. “Not only due to COVID-19, but the inflation we’re seeing is going to drive expenses up and now we have Russia trying to start another war in Europe. That’s going to continue to change things. We’re going to continue to be extremely conservative in our budget for next year.”

For more information on the airport, go to https://triflight.com/. Look for more information on the Tri-Cities Airport and the Tri-Cities Aerospace Park in the Kingsport Times News’ upcoming March 6 progress edition.

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