published Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Chattanooga international travel way up

Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport is seen from above.
Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport is seen from above.
Photo by Dan Henry.
TOP CITIES

International fliers started or ended trips at Chattanooga Airport from these cities most often in 2011:

  1. Toronto

  2. Mexico City

  3. London

  4. Montreal

  5. Frankfurt

Source: Brookings Institution

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Tim Maharrey says he and other managers for foam maker Woodbridge FoamPartner fly between Chattanooga and Toronto about 10 times a year.

In turn, top management at the company's Canadian and Zurich, Switzerland, offices make fairly frequent return trips each year, the local general manager said.

"It's all done out of Chattanooga," Maharrey said.

A new Brookings Institution study shows that such international travel in and out of Chattanooga Airport rose 34.3 percent from 2003 to 2011.

The rate of increase was the 22nd highest out of airports in 90 U.S. metro areas surveyed.

"It's important to Chattanooga," said Brookings senior fellow Robert Puentes about international travel.

Toronto, in fact, topped the list of international cities that people use Chattanooga Airport to fly to and from, according to Brookings.

Mexico City was the next highest, the study showed. German auto maker Volkswagen, which opened its Chattanooga auto assembly plant last year, also has major operations in Mexico as do many of its suppliers.

Three cities in Germany, Hannover, Frankfurt and Munich-Ausburg, were on Chattanooga Airport's top 20 list as well, according to Brookings.

Polysilicon maker Wacker, building a $1.5 billion plant in nearby Bradley County, also is a German company with its world headquarters in Munich.

Erika Burk, director of human resources for Wacker's Bradley operations, said there's constant travel between the U.S and Germany and its employees usually fly out of Chattanooga.

"It's more convenient," she said.

Burk said there's always the possibility of driving to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, but it's a two-hour trip.

"You have to park your car ... and there are so many flights in Atlanta," she said.

Terry Hart, who heads the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority, said the increased foreign investment in the area is showing up in flight activity at the airport.

Since there are no nonstops between Chattanooga and international destinations, travelers must connect to airports in other cities such as Atlanta, Charlotte, or Detroit.

Hart said that access "really is the name of the game for a regional airport." He said airlines' business models don't allow for point-to-point access from communities like Chattanooga to points around the globe. But they do provide access through their hub system to their global networks, Hart said.

Puentes said that because of Chattanooga's dependence on hub airports, it and other cities have a lot at stake in the efficiency of those gateways.

Flight delays at airports such as Atlanta, for example, have "an enormous ripple effect across the globe," he said.

"It matters very much to people in Chattanooga ... and what happens in Atlanta," Puentes said.

He said the federal government has a huge role to play. The Brookings study recommended helping metro areas better meet airport investment needs by raising the cap on passenger facility charges.

The study also suggested recalibrating the federal Airport Improvement Program, which provides federal money to airports.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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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