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Tri-State Airport down slightly with loss of Delta

Jan. 17, 2013 @ 10:53 PM

CEREDO -- Huntington Tri-State Airport finished 2012 with 106,444 enplanements, down 6.6 percent from the previous year, Marketing Director Beckie McKinley reported to the authority board Thursday at its monthly meeting.

"That's not bad, considering the loss of an airline," she said, referring to the loss of Delta in May 2012.

Allegiant Airlines finished 2012 with 60,864 enplanements, up 1 percent from 2011, and U.S. Airways finished 2012 with about 37,483 enplanements, up 12.6 percent from 2011.

A boost from U.S. Airways "is exactly what we needed after the loss of Delta," she said.

The airport will be continuing its efforts to pursue a new airline to replace Delta, said Jerry Brienza, executive director of the airport. An airline he visited late last year has requested some additional information, which he sent, and two more meetings with airlines are planned in February, Brienza said. Those include Allegiant, with whom Brienza would like to discuss flights to Punta Gorda, Fla., the Caribbean or Las Vegas.

He also has a meeting planned with U.S. Airways to talk about a new destination or more aircraft for Charlotte.

"We visit with them once a year and talk to them four times a year," he said of U.S. Airways.

Brienza reported to board members some findings from a recent impromptu conference held for 10 small, non-hub airports to discuss issues facing the industry and airports their size. Topics discussed included fares, reduced frequency of flights, loss of passengers to neighboring airports, community complaints and lack of responsiveness from airlines.

"There wasn't a whole lot of good news coming out of that meeting. There are a lot of sad stories," he told the board.

Tri-State Airport is not alone in the challenges it faces in attracting new air service, he said. The airport has a $500,000 U.S. Department of Transportation grant, with a $1,000 community contribution match, to include in an incentive package for a new airline, but that's minuscule compared with other airports, he said.

"Newport News has a $51/2 million incentive package they have not been able to sell for four years," Brienza said.

Airlines have become "business people overnight," he said. They're trimming their budgets by decreasing seats and frequency of flights and in other ways not in favor of smaller airports.

The group of airports at the conference will be pushing forward as a group to provide more lobbying power, he said.

In terms of renovations at the airport, the terminal upgrades are still in the works, and soon will include new carpeting and new ticket counters. While the Tudor's restaurant has opened inside the airport, the Gino's Pub has yet to open to the public. There was no official word on when that will be.

He also hopes the airport can complete taxiway rehabilitation this year, with assistance of federal funding from the Federal Aviation Administration. It needs $6 million for the project.

The airport also has received $50,000 from Cabell County, to join with $25,000 received from Wayne County, to go toward infrastructure improvements on the south side of the airport property.