Chattanooga Airport Passengers, Freight Continue To Increase; Curtis Robinson Retires After 42 Years As Custodian

Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - by Gail Perry
- photo by Gail Perry

The Chattanooga Airport continues to see an increase in use, as evidenced by the number of people and pounds of freight traveling in and out of Lovell Field. Statistics show that enplanements in April were 47,950, and 49,995 in May, an increase of 13.84 percent above May 2018. Deplanements were 47,493 in April and 50,528 in May, up 14.22 percent from May a year ago. Pounds of air freight originating in Chattanooga has also has increased 5.87 percent from 2018 and air freight deplaning is 6.49 percent higher.


During May, Delta Express had 49.61 percent of the market share, American had 34.42 percent United had 10.11 percent and Allegiant had 5.55 percent.


With the increased use comes the need for new facilities and increased maintenance. The airport is now in the design phase of a new 25,000-square-foot hangar. Bids for construction should be ready in September. Additional parking has been made available in preparation for using some of the new parking to replace what will be taken out of service when a parking deck is being built. A new sign has been placed near the entrance to the airport on the Airport Connector Road to show availability of parking at each of the lots.


With more planes landing, the touch-down zones on the runways become covered with rubber buildup that obliterates markings and creates friction and slick spots. A runway rubber removal project is about to begin which will be done with an environmentally friendly chemical that is brushed into the surface and washed off to clear the rubber that is left from the tires. The work will be done at night after the last landing and will take two to three nights to complete. The Airport Board approved the cost of $36,020 for materials, equipment and labor.


Another project of replacing 30-year-old runway lighting will also be done. The new lighting will be weather resistant and more efficient. This work, too, is scheduled at night. The new lighting system, that will cost $901,608, is expected to last another 30 years with regular maintenance. This work will take about four months and will begin in August. Allen & Hoshall was approved to provide engineering services associated with this project at a cost of $128,460.


A contract with Allen & Hoshall for planning, civil engineering and architectural services that will expire in August was approved for renewal for another five years with an hourly rate that is 6.5 percent higher than the previous contract. This firm can provide all the services without out-sourcing them, said President and CEO of the Airport Terry Hart. That company also has a long history with the airport and is familiar with the systems.


As the staff of in-house janitorial services has dwindled from attrition, Mr. Hart said it has become challenging to fill the vacancies. The staff of five is now down to two. Outsourcing some of this work has been done previously to fill the void on weekends. Now there is a need for additional help. The recommendation to contract with Maidpro that will add afternoon shifts to the weekend ones already handled by that company was approved by the board of directors.


The contract will pay the company $18 per man hour and the workers will be monitored and evaluated each week by airport staff. Outsourcing this amount of work in addition to that provided by airport employees will cost $245,000 a year, versus $311,000 if all the work is done by airport employees. However, Mr. Hart said the purpose is not primarily to reduce cost, but that the facility just needs to be maintained and replacing workers is such a challenge. Maidpro does not provide any benefits for their employees and board members found it difficult to believe people would choose to work for that company doing the same thing they would do if they worked for the airport, which also provides a benefits package. Board member Mike Mallen said the primary objective needs to be on cleanliness right here, right now.


A personnel plan revision was approved. Airport employees receive four weeks that includes two for personal leave and two for sick leave. An employee with 10 years of service will now be able to sell back two weeks at the end of the year. The remaining two weeks must be used or rolled over if not used and will be paid out at retirement.


The president’s employment structure was also changed by request of the city attorney for Chattanooga. Mr. Hart’s employment contract was terminated and he will be kept on as an “at-will employee.” This change was made in order to be in compliance with Chattanooga’s pension plan.


The opening of the third and final phase of the airport’s solar farm will be from 10-11 a.m. on Wednesday at the Wilson Air Center. The goal of the solar farm is for the airport to become energy self sufficient and to be carbon neutral.


At the end of May, the Air Power History Tour, showcasing historic WWII aircraft, attracted 2,700 people to view the five aircraft. During the event people were able to take cockpit tours and book a ride. It was a huge success, said Mr. Hart, with people lined up all around the airport to watch.


Airport employees have taken on a project to adopt a classroom at Brainerd High School. This will involve upgrading the interior of the room used as the Institute of Aviation to make it more conducive for learning. It is hoped that this class will help to prepare students for future jobs at the airport.


The retirement of two long-time employees of the airport was announced. Curtis Robinson, a custodian, has worked at the airport for 42 years, starting at age 19. This has been his first and only full-time job. This is the longest time of employment on record, said Board Chairman Dan Jacobson. John Naylor, Vice President of Planning Development who has been at the Chattanooga Airport for the past 12 years, will be leaving a legacy of infrastructure and sustainability, said Mr. Jacobson. And congratulations were given to Mr. Hart, who has recently been chosen as Chattanooga Manager of the Year for 2019.

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