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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) -- It's just before 10:00 a.m. on a Monday morning and Delta flight 343 is taxing to its parking spot at gate B1 at Tallahassee Regional Airport.
It's a full flight from Atlanta. Crew on the ground, and in the terminal, have just 45 minutes to turn around the Boeing 717 and get it back off to Atlanta.
At first it may seem like business as usual. However, to airport director Chris Curry it is a step forward to growing air and passenger traffic at the airport and ultimately achieving cheaper fares for travelers.
"Delta is starting to phase out a lot of the CRJ's in Tallahassee, which are the 50 seat regional planes, and they're starting to bring in more main line aircraft (like the Boeing 717)," said Chris Curry, Director of Aviation for the City of Tallahassee, which oversees Tallahassee Regional Airport. "They're putting more capacity in the market because more people are utilizing Delta."
Curry says Delta is seeing success with using larger aircraft in Tallahassee.
LOW COST AIRFARE
While he sees it as a positive step, the bigger question many have been asking is how does Tallahassee attract more flights to more destinations, and a cheaper cost.
"The question is, can we put the cheeks in the seats, and yes, Tallahasseans have shown if we get more routes and lower fares they will fly out of Tallahassee and that's the selling point we've got to show the airlines," said Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox, a long-time airport advocate.
Commissioner Maddox and airport director Chris Curry are at the forefront of discussions to draw in low cost carriers. Maddox says they include Spirit Airlines, Alliegiant Airlines, and JetBlue.
"We're meeting with different airlines, we're meeting with the legacy airlines, we're looking at creative options that will enable our folks to fly more destinations for cheaper fares," Commissioner Maddox said.
"We have the statistics to show that we pay a competitive cost to fly on the aircraft and we have a certain amount of passengers that will fly to those destinations," Curry said. "Those other airlines have proven the success of certain routes and we hope to capitalize on that."
Curry says the numbers show, having a lack of low cost options for passengers is costing the airport cash. This as passengers look elsewhere for flights.
"What I do know is that about 22% of our traffic here leaks to Jacksonville," Curry said, adding that 8%-9% leaks to Atlanta or Orlando and 5% of passengers that could have flown out of Tallahassee instead choose to fly out of Panama City Beach. "I will tell you, if you we can get one of the major low cost carriers into this airport, it will certainly be a game changer for the Tallahassee airport."
As Commissioner Maddox mentioned, Tallahassee has to sell itself to airlines has having the supply, demand, and potential profitability. It's often easier said than done.
"The airport position has to be aligned with the air carrier," Curry said. "If an air carrier's strategy is not to grow in small to mid size markets, then Tallahassee, even though we may be a great destination in our mind, may not be good for them at the time. However, some airlines may say they want to grow in small to mid size markets."
While Curry says the airport has no control over what airlines charge passengers to fly, they can control what they charge airlines. Lower fees for the airlines could mean lower fares for you.
MAKING MONEY ELSEWHERE
The way the airport does that is by generating revenue elsewhere. One option is to use existing land on airport property for development. That plan however would have to first be approved by voters through an extension of the local sales tax initiative. The ballot measure would extend the initiative beyond its current expiration date in 2019.
Curry says with voters approval they would be able to develop 1,200 acres of land on the airport property for commercial and industrial development.
Sue Dick, President of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, says this plan could provide a major boost for the local economy.
"It's important to be able to move people in and out, but it's also a great footprint for future development and economic opportunity for our community," Dick said.
THE ECONOMIC IMPACT
According to the most recent survey, done several years ago, Dick says the airport helps generate nearly $370 million, directly and indirectly, for the local economy.
"That's project being conducted at the airport...but also those industries that feed off of travelers and business travelers that come into the community," Dick said. "That impacts hotels, restaurants, services that might be needed. It is a business model and you need to be very focused and very targeted. The asset we have is that it is a regional airport."
That status as a regional airport could in the near future be upgraded to international airport.
TALLAHASSEE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Curry says that is another initiative they're pursuing, all in an added effort to grow air, passenger, and commercial traffic.
"The international status for this airport tells the global community that Tallahassee is open for international business," Curry said.
THE AIRPORT MAKEOVER
Other major changes are already happening. This includes the $22.7 million dollar project to revamp the runway. Curry says once complete, the project will give TRA the latest cutting edge runway technology. Ninety-percent of the project is being funded by the federal government, with the Florida Department of Transportation paying for 5% and another 5% being paid for by local funds.
Inside the terminal, renovations will begin this Fall.
To make the front area more open, Curry says they are removing the baggage inspection system and placing it underneath the airport. They will also remove the carpeting and tiles and replace it with terrazzo flooring.
"When anyone comes in and out of this airport they should feel a sense of Florida and Florida really means sunshine, it means bright, it means spacious, it means water it means all of those things, and I believe all of these improvements will lead to that," Curry said.
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