Hart Says Airport Continuing Sustainability Efforts; Says Wilson Air Center Proving Good Investment

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - by Gail Perry

Chattanooga Airport president Terry Hart told the Kiwanis Club on Tuesday that the airport's sustainability efforts are being continued with a second phase of its solar farm. The original phase has been in operation for two years and now provides enough electricity to power 35 percent of that used by the airport. The 4,000 panels produce enough power to sustain 12 houses for a year and 120 cars. 

With the addition of the new section of the solar farm, enough power will be generated to run 85 percent of the electricity used by the airport in a year. The goal is eventually to produce 100 percent. The electricity generated is not actually used by the facility, but is sold to TVA, with the proceeds coming back to the airport to pay for the cost of electricity. 

Mr. Hart said the location of the solar farm could not have been used for anything else because of the elevation. This was all built with another FAA grant that covered 95 percent of the expense. The five percent match that was required from the airport should be recovered in a year and a half.At a meeting Tuesday, the Chattanooga Kiwanis Club heard an update to the operations of Chattanooga Airport and projects that are currently in progress. Terry Hart, President and CEO of the Airport told them that the business sectors of the facility consists of Commercial and Corporate with each being responsible for 40 percent of the operations and Air Cargo and Military use, also being factors.

The airport operations are required to be self-sustaining with all operating costs funded by charges generated at the airport itself. Capital funds come primarily from grants from the FAA, federal government, and the state of Tennessee. No money is derived from the city of Chattanooga or Hamilton County, he emphasized.

In the commercial realm, there are currently four major carriers - Delta, connecting through Atlanta and Detroit, US Airways, connecting through Charlotte and Washington D.C., American Eagle with hubs in Dallas and Chicago, and Allegiant catering to the leisure traveler with flights to Orlando, and Tampa / St. Pete.  He said it is his job to bring additional air service to Chattanooga, but he said with the airlines just beginning to recover from operating at a loss, there is reluctance on their part to take the risk of adding new destinations.

The speaker said Delta’s business has increased enough, however, that the 50-seat prop planes that were used in the past were first replaced with DC9s and there is now a daily MD-80 flight that does well since it offers the first class cabin that frequent fliers want. He said that economic development is strong in Chattanooga and the international market is up 40 percent because of industrial development in the area.

Corporate and general aviation plays a big part in the economic development of a community, said Mr. Hart. In August of 2011 the airport opened a new fixed base operator, Wilson Air, for corporate and transient traffic. It was built using state grants and money generated by the Chattanooga Airport, using no city or county money, he stated.

Before the opening of Wilson Air there was no competitive environment, he said. Since it opened fuel has dropped $1 a gallon and there has been a decrease in hangar rent. The service level has also risen. In Phase 1 of the project, 12,000 square feet of hangar space was added as well as a general aviation terminal. Mr. Hart said it was filled immediately and Phase 2, which opened Oct. 1, added 20,000 additional square feet of hangar and 13,000 square feet of office space.

All of these buildings meet LEED standards, with the new terminal achieving Platinum status, the only one in the world, said the president of the airport. An impressive corporate aviation facility is very important, he added. He said for people coming here for business it is “a nice first front door to the community and the last door out.”

Another phase of the airport’s business is air cargo. Originally, Fed-Ex used propeller planes to service Chattanooga. That has now changed with 757s operating six nights each week because of the growing businesses here. Grants from the FAA are helping the airport to increase capacity to meet future demand in this business, with expansions on the south end of the airport.

Multiple other projects are taking place, including a $7.2 million restoration of the 23-year-old terminal. Construction is currently underway to update and repair the roof, floors, walls, public seating and paint. New restrooms and escalators are being installed and there will be a new restaurant on the post-security side of security. The changes are focused on consumer’s wishes, said Mr. Hart, and the renovated terminal will be LEED certified and is expected to be completed around the first part of January.

Land adjacent to the airport along Brainerd Road that used to be the location of several car dealerships is in a “safety area” that needs to be protected. The airport secured funding to buy and demolish the buildings and plant grass. The scope of the work has changed since it was begun, to coordinate with a project spearheaded by Councilwoman Carol Berz, to revitalize the community. Working along with the city of Chattanooga, the land is now being re-graded and prepared to help infiltrate storm water into the ground and carry it away in this flood-prone zone.  

The community will be proud of the amenities and appearance of the renovated airport, said Mr. Hart. He sees the purpose of the facility as being there to serve the community. And in his estimation, the airport will succeed because “it is all about convenience,” but added that he is aware that fares are also important.

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