Tri-Cities Airport to receive $10.3M CARES Act grant

Hank Hayes • Apr 23, 2020 at 7:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Tri-Cities Airport is expecting a $10.3 million grant from the CARES Act passed by Congress to help out the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s what TCA Executive Director Gene Cossey told Airport Authority commissioners Thursday during a meeting held via Zoom.

“This grant is different than any of the grants we’ve ever received because it is, in essence, a revenue grant, not a capital grant,” Cossey explained. “There’s basically no strings attached in this grant. ... I’m not going to count these eggs in our basket until we are actually awarded the grant, but I’m very hopeful everything will go through and we will be awarded the grant in a timely manner.”

The plan for the money, Cossey noted, is to use it for expenses and operational needs.

Cossey pointed out a few other airports were not happy with their grant awards and are trying “in a small way” to get TCA’s share blocked. One larger Tennessee airport is in that group, according to Cossey. “I have not heard of any of the major (airport) hubs trying to block it,” he added. “We should receive the grant very quickly from what the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is saying. ... If we have extra left, we could use it for a normal capital project.”

Money from the grant, said Cossey, should cover about a year and a half of expenses.

Based on Transportation Security Administration reports, Cossey said the airport is seeing about 50-60 passengers a day, which is about a 90% drop. “What we don’t know and we will not know is when capacity will ramp back up,” Cossey said of the airlines resuming normal operations.

Cossey disclosed that one unnamed airline and the rental car companies have asked the airport to defer receivables from them.

“I told them we cannot and will not waive their fees and payments to us,” Cossey said. “(But) right now, we’re planning on deferring them through July with equal payments the six months or so after that to recover those deferred payments. ... It will probably end up being applied to all three airlines that serve here and to all rental car agencies. We are required to treat everyone equitably.”

Parking operations, said Cossey, are “down to nothing,” and the airport is expecting more than a $330,000 operating loss for the 2020 fiscal year.

The airport’s Tailwind restaurant operation has shut down and discontinued a $287,000 renovation project.

“This is a space that needs to be renovated when people start flying again,” Airport Authority Vice-Chairman Todd Hensley said.

Cossey said the airport had four staff members who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus and stayed home, but no one was sick.

Airport Authority commissioners decided they should hold monthly or called meetings as needed to make decisions.

“This (COVID-19) thing could change from day to day,” Airport Authority Chairman Jon Smith said.

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