published Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Travelers bypass Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport

Vincent Lopez, left, and Don Lovelace check over the list of passengers expected to travel from Chattanooga to Atlanta via Groome Transportation. The two drivers expected 15 passengers, which required two vans.
Vincent Lopez, left, and Don Lovelace check over the list of passengers expected to travel from Chattanooga to Atlanta via Groome Transportation. The two drivers expected 15 passengers, which required two vans.
Photo by Jenna Walker.
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Sal LaRocca, of Ooltewah, flew to Phoenix last week, but he rode a shuttle van to Nashville's airport instead of leaving from Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

"It's a nonstop flight," he said about the Southwest Airlines service, adding that he likes to fly from Chattanooga when he can.

LaRocca is typical of a majority of Chattanooga air travelers who drive to other cities to board their airline flights.

A study by a consultant hired by Chattanooga's airport shows that nearly two of every three travelers in metropolitan Chattanooga fly out of other cities.

With fewer direct flights and sometimes higher fares than at other airports, Lovell Field garnered just 35 percent of metropolitan Chattanooga's fliers over the past year, according to figures compiled by the Sixel Consulting Group of Dallas.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest, captured 53 percent of the air travelers from the area, Sixel's report said.

Nashville International Airport picked up more than 10 percent of Chattanooga's air travelers while Knoxville McGhee Tyson Airport garnered 1.6 percent, according to Sixel.

Two carriers which don't directly serve Chattanooga, Southwest and AirTran, captured almost 13 percent of all area traffic, the report said.

Also, if only travelers making international flights are included, Chattanooga keeps just 17.7 percent of fliers, with Atlanta's airport wooing 82.8 percent, the study indicated.

Michael Lum, Sixel's air service strategy and development consultant, said the study shows that Chattanooga's airport does well in keeping local travelers when they're flying to cities with a nonstop connection.

"Chattanooga is generally able to retain a high share of traffic in markets where this is nonstop service," he said, citing such cities Orlando, Tampa, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

In the report, local counties included Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie in Tennessee and Catoosa, Dade and Walker in Georgia.

Figures stay up

The number of local people driving to other airports has remained stubbornly high over the last decade.

But Chattanooga airport officials said they plan to use the latest study, which includes detailed data on traffic patterns and fares, to help them woo more flights and lower fares.

  • photo
    Mike Landguth of Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport

Mike Landguth, the airport's president, said the report provides a baseline from which to develop air service strategies and make pitches to airlines.

"Reports like this one give us a good snapshot in time and help us understand shifts in demand to grow new destinations," he said about the $15,000 study.

United service

Officials are working to set up another meeting with United Airlines to make a case for it bringing service to Chattanooga, Landguth said. United flies into Newark, N.J., which serves New York, as well as to Houston, which could benefit companies such as Volkswagen, which has a plant and suppliers in Mexico.

"These conversations often take months and years to bear fruit," Landguth said.

But Landguth said he is encouraged about community growth and confident the airport's travelers can support new service.

Through August, Chattanooga airport's passenger boardings are up 5.92 percent over last year to 200,715 passenger, figures show.

In 2010, Chattanooga's airport boarded 292,830 passengers, down 5.96 percent from the previous year, to rank as No. 153 in passenger activity among the nation's 401 commercial airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

By comparison, boardings rose last year by 2.01 percent at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to more than 43.1 million and passenger boardings rose 1.07 percent last year at Nashville International Airport to more than 4.4 million, according to FAA data released last week.

Wooing business

Having quality air service is a key to attracting business, said Tom Edd Wilson, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's chief executive.

"It's a dollars and cents issue for a lot of companies," he said. "If you can get your executives and workforce people here quickly to do business and do it without a great deal of delay, you're saving money."

Landguth said the report shows that average fares are competitive with surrounding airports.

The average one-way fare users of Chattanooga's airport pay is $194, the study said. That's compared to Atlanta's airport where the average fare is $236, the report showed.

Lum said the average one-way fare is much higher in Atlanta because of the international flights. Just measuring domestic fares, the average fare at Hartsfield-Jackson is $163.

"Fares are consistently cited as a top issue for travelers," Landguth said. "Through the addition of more airlines and routes over the years, fares have become increasingly competitive."

Van Connections

In addition to other airports, Lovell Field also faces competition from shuttle company Groome Transportation.

John Collison, operations director for Groome Transportation, said his Ringgold Road business shuttles travelers via vans directly to passenger loading areas at airports in Atlanta and Nashville. Groome's business in Chattanooga is up between 10 percent and 15 percent so far this year, Collison said.

He cited new industry in the Chattanooga area, such as Volkswagen and Wacker.

"We do carry a lot of Germans," Collison said.

The business, which runs 19 round-trip shuttle vans daily to Atlanta and 14 a day to Nashville, plans to invest in a new building at its location and operate all its vehicles with propane fuel, he said.

Gordon Guild, of Ooltewah, traveled last week to Kenya and took Groome to Atlanta's airport, where he was connecting to a flight to Amsterdam.

Taking the taxi service allowed him to avoid a flight change in Atlanta.

But his wife, Carol, said she usually flies out of Chattanooga.

"I like the airport," she said. "It's small and easy to get around in."

Sixel's report showed a significant hike in international travel out of Chattanooga in the first quarter, up 40.2 percent over the same period a year ago. That's a trend Chattanooga airport officials would like to see continue.

Wilson of the Chamber said better service to Mexico is on his wish list because of VW's plant in Puebla, that nation's second-largest city.

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about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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smadave said...

I cant believe they paid $15k to find out what most people already know...people want affordable direct flights. Personaly, I would love to see a direct flight from Chattanooga to Atlantic city. I currently fly out of Altanta on Air Tran for about $69-$79 each way. I am generally happy with the price and the service (except for the baggage fees) but if I could eliminate that 2 hour drive to Atlanta, that would be great.

October 9, 2011 at 7:22 a.m.
Astropig said...

This is NOT just a price issue. Price is a big part of the equation,but mainly it is a service issue.The issue is ASA.

This little ratbag airline has spoiled more weekends,reunions,weddings and homecomings than anybody can count and they will keep doing it until they eventually go bankrupt (which I hope is soon).

To put it in plain language: Groome Transportation can at least keep a schedule.Groome is courteous,polite and affordable. ASA (which is the main feeder airline from Atlanta) can not. ASA is just as likely to cancel a flight into CMA as get there. And forget getting there on time. My wife finally gave up flying ASA a few years ago when we sat down,took a pencil and paper and realized that with the delays and cancellations,it actually took more time to fly into Chattanooga than it took to use Groome.She (and now our whole family) never looked back.

I could have told these consultants this for a cup of coffee.Tip of the hat to Groome for showing us what is possible when you don't hate your customers with passion,as ASA obvoiusly does.

Okay, let them know,burned ASA flyers: Tell these blind fools that the problem is the airline ,not the airport...

October 9, 2011 at 8:04 a.m.
MasterChefLen said...

Delta is all too happy to cancel flights (or have connection delays or mechanical issues on their puddle jumpers) to and from the Chattanooga airport. It is hard to have any confidence making connnecting flights when the Chattanooga Airport is in the equation. GROOME transport is consistently on schedule. The free parking alone at GROOME is an added incentive if you are planning to be gone for over a week. If they put high speed rail from Chattanooga to Atlanta, the Chattanooga airport can turn off the lights.

October 9, 2011 at 1:57 p.m.
tbfltri8 said...

The Chattanooga Airport like the local area is growing but has some tough items to address. I think it's a pipe-dream to expect an AirTran or a Southwest to come to Chattanooga within the next 5 years and even if they did, non-stops to most cities in the nation are not going to happen. You can thank the airlines "hub and spoke" system for this.

But as a frequent flyer, CHA all in all is a great experience. Parking and security are a breeze (get that parking faciliity built soon though) and knock on wood I rarely have delays or cancellations getting to and from CHA. I don't have to sit in a cramped shuttle to ATL or BNA (and listen to the person next to me on their cell phone for 2 hours) and then deal with a longer security wait when I get there. Yes I have to hike through the Atlanta or Chicago airport to catch my next flight but if I shuttled to Atlanta I'd still have the same (or even longer) walk to the next gate. Pricing is higher here and the airport needs more airlines to compete so that prices will improve.

I wish Chattanooga would study Greenville SC and see what they've done at their airport. It's a small facility but is layed out well, easy to navigate and was successful in getting Southwest to fly there.

October 9, 2011 at 2 p.m.
Wilder said...

This article sounds like an ad for Groomes. They may leave Chattanooga on time, but like a Greyhound bus, they stop frequently to pick up passengers, many unseemly types, who normally ride the Greyhound, and are not flying anywhere. And, once they have your money, and you're trapped on the cramped van, you are no longer their priority. They think nothing about waiting for inconsiderate people, who aren't at the pickup points on time, and they will even turn around and go back to pick them up. They also think nothing about inconsiderate passengers who scream on their cell phones the entire trip, I will drive myself to the Atlanta airport, thank you, ten times out of ten.

October 9, 2011 at 3:05 p.m.
7Seventeen said...

If one is lucky and rich enough to own an aircraft, the Chattanooga Airport has a brand new taxpayer built FBO that will provide the type of red carpet treatment the richest of the rich expect.

October 9, 2011 at 8:27 p.m.
dl said...

Have to agree with Astropig. Groome keeps their schedule, CHA flights do not. Plain and simple.

October 9, 2011 at 8:57 p.m.
joneses said...

Round trip to Orlando from Chattanoga is $730.00. Round trip to Orlando from Atlanta is $270.00. And they spent $15,000.00 to find out why so many people do not fly out of Chattanooga? Stupid.

October 10, 2011 at 7:06 a.m.
signal said...

Joneses, you obviously need to check out Allegiant Air which has non-stop flights from Chattanooga to Orlando, much cheaper than the other airlines and most often even cheaper than that $270 from Atlanta. They also fly large MD-80 aircraft so those people afraid of the small puddle jumpers need not be scared.

October 10, 2011 at 7:18 a.m.
Shock said...

The Wichita, KS airport did something innovative a few years ago to lure a low cost airline (AirTran, maybe?) to their small airport. The airport got commitments from all the businesses in the city for a specified number of flights over a two year period. Armed with those commitments, the city and airport approached the airline and convinced them to come. Maybe Chattanooga could consider something similar to get Southwest here.

October 10, 2011 at 8:22 a.m.
ImTellinYa said...

Like Shock said, Southwest might come here with incentive. This is a market not only for the Chattanooga Area, but for Knoxville, and Atlanta as well. People might prefer driving to taking a shuttle to Chattanooga for Southwest flights.

October 10, 2011 at 1:16 p.m.

If Allegiant offered more destinations than Tampa and Orlando, then the Chattanooga airport would capture a larger market share. They used to fly to the Miami area, but cancelled that. When I lived in Orlando, I'd fly on Allegiant once every two months to visit my mother, brother, and sister in Chattanooga, one flight as cheap as $17. Other than parking at the Sanford airport and having to wake up at 5 AM the mornings I was flying northbound, it was very convenient and painless. Also, Southwest Airlines has plans to serve Atlanta in 2012.

November 26, 2011 at 7:23 p.m.
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