The Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport is a quarter of the way into a $28-million expansion of its passenger terminal, and air traffic in and out continues to grow, just shy of pre-pandemic levels.
The numbers are in agreement with Board of Directors Chairman Jim Hall’s New Year’s resolutions: construction, direct flights and customer service.
The terminal project is on schedule and set to be complete in 18 months. It adds three new passenger gates, a restaurant and a roomier TSA checkpoint.
In October, Blake Poole, vice president of Air Service and Economic Development, worked to woo more carriers to Chattanooga at the TakeOff North America Conference. He focused on service to Denver and South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
He said South Florida is among the top five destinations of people flying out of Chattanooga, and Denver is among the top 10. The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce is beginning to track economic ties to Denver, he said, including talent recruitment and small business connections.
“We’ve had a lot of people pushing Denver lately,” said Mr. Poole.
Mr. Poole met with nine airlines including Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, Breeze, JetBlue, United Airlines, Delta, American Airlines and Southwest.
“They know we’ve got the space if they come,” Mr. Poole said. “Once we get them here, they really like the area.” He reported that Chattanooga’s four incumbents, Allegiant, American, United and Delta, are pleased with their load factors and cost structures, and pleased to be here. It took three years to bring United here in 2016.
“It’s worked out very well for them,” said Terry Hart, Airport president.
Despite nationwide industry challenges of crew and employee shortages, which Mr. Poole said will last through summer 2023, Chattanooga’s air traffic numbers continue to rise.
Mr. Hart reported that the airport is on track to hit 90,000 aircraft arrivals and departures by the end of 2022, the highest number since the Federal Aviation Administration started its own automated record keeping in 2012. Private flights lead that number, including Krystal Aviation, West Star Aviation and Hixson Aviation Flying Club. The number also includes commercial flights, military flights and cargo.
Monthly passenger numbers are as expected. November year-to-date is 399,000 and Mr. Hart expects 432,000 through the end of December. These numbers are 22 percent below those of pre-pandemic 2019, and just under the Airport’s available seats.
“Things will start coming around again,” said Mr. Hart, citing United's order of 100 Dreamliner planes earlier this month, and industry-wide advancements in company relations with pilots and employees.
Not long ago, Mr. Hart said, 75 percent of Chattanooga passengers were on business trips, but leisure trips are on the rise. He described young people showing up at the airport with carry-ons on Friday, who return Sunday night.
The board discussed several ongoing projects.
The airport is expanding its West Star Aviation section with hangar 27, which should be complete by mid-2023. The airport is also building two more hangars for Wilson Air Center, which manages all general aviation.
The board voted to amend the cost of the three jet bridges, adding $140,957 in sales tax. The jet bridges don’t benefit from the Airport’s tax-exempt status if a third-party contractor installs them. The cost was more than $3 million. AERO BridgeWorks agreed to credit the purchase $60,000 to help offset the tax. One jet bridge has arrived and will be tested next week and put into use immediately.
The board approved $37,800 to purchase an ecologic mobile foam test system for the foam retardants on its two fire trucks. The new method tests the expensive foam while it’s still in the fire truck’s system, keeping it usable. The old testing system required all the foam to be expelled, which was costly and bad for the environment.
The board approved $42,971 to replace 37 duct detectors.
The board approved the purchase of two bag valet systems for gates 2 and 5 for $50,620.