With a new annual high expected this year for passenger boardings, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport officials are looking at the possibility of bringing back an observation deck for non-fliers.
Boardings are up nearly 18 percent through September over last year to 353,549 passengers, airport figures show.
Terry Hart, the airport's chief, said it's a matter of how far 2017 boardings will surpass last year's high mark of 419,059 passengers, which was a record over 2015.
"We see that all the carriers are up," he told the Airport Authority during a meeting of the panel Tuesday.
› 419,059: 2016 passenger boarding record at Chattanooga Airport
› 353,549: 2017 boardings through this September
› 18 percent: Increase in boardings through September over last year
Source: Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport
Brian Mohr of the long-range planning firm InterVistas projected Lovell Field could see boardings rise to 700,000 in about 20 years.
Also, he said, the company is projecting an increase in daily flights from more than 50 to upward of 70 in two decades.
In addition, Mohr told the airport authority his company is looking at helping solve the airport's shortage of parking and general aviation hangar space.
He added that plans are to make space near the terminal for a potential high-speed train, should such a project receive funding and go forward in the future.
The long-range plan is slated to be finished in the third quarter of 2018, Hart said.
As Lovell Field officials plan for future growth, Authority member Mike Mallen said they ought to look at the idea of putting in an observation deck where people could watch family members take off and land or simply view the airliners coming and going.
"I'd like to see it," said Mallen, adding it would offer more access to the airport to the public.
Hart said he has seen people outside Lovell Field's fence watching planes and has thought about an observation area for nontravelers.
An observation deck could be bought up with the company conducting a new long-range plan for the airport, he said.
"We'll talk about it," Hart said, adding that could be another way to interest young people in aviation as commercial airlines face a pilot shortage.
He and Mallen noted that Pittsburgh International Airport has begun allowing people without airline tickets to pass through the security checkpoint to a special deck with the use of a complimentary day pass.
Once through security, day pass users can meet loved ones at the gate when they arrive, send off their family members on their flight, or they can just watch aircraft take off and land though the terminal windows.
Available Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., pass users can walk around the Pittsburgh airport's concourse and shop and dine, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
"We'll have to do some investigating and see how that works," Hart said.
Before the existing passenger terminal was built more than two decades ago, Lovell Field offered non-fliers access to an observation deck to simply check out aircraft.
Nontravelers also could enter concourses with fliers until the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.
This story was updated Oct. 17 at 11:10 p.m. with more information.