Boardings at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport increased 6 percent in the first quarter of 2011, according to statistics released by the Airport Authority.
In the first three months of 2010, about 63,000 passengers boarded planes from Chattanooga, while more than 67,000 have climbed aboard in 2011 so far.
London-based Air4Casts predicted a 2.7 percent increase in enplanements across the U.S., leaving Chattanooga at double the national average, said Christina Siebold, director of marketing and communications for the airport.
Mike Landguth, president and CEO of the Airport Authority, credited the improving local economy and increased interest in the airport's second Detroit and new Destin, Fla., routes with the uptick in passengers for the year.
"I think a lot of it hinges on the economic growth in our community," he said. "We do like the metrics in our community, from an economic standpoint."
The new non-stop routes are popular with Chattanooga-area residents, who can save a two-hour drive to the Atlanta or Knoxville airports.
For Sarah Goodman, who flies home to Chattanooga for family visits from Washington, D.C., where she lives, the 1 1/2 hour flight is vastly preferable to the 10-hour drive from the nation's capitol.
Plus, with the airport's increased emphasis on direct routes, "you have a greater sense of maintaining your original plans" when flying through Chattanooga, she said.
Frequent international flyer Peter Poggi agreed, saying Chattanooga is simply the most convenient for him, especially in light of rising gas prices.
But on busy days, it can be a hassle for connecting flights, he said, because Chattanooga flights often get pushed back from landing in major airports in favor of international and cross-country flights that may be low on fuel.
Increased boardings can also be good for airport vendors, said Vince Reese, who works the snack bar.
"Sundays and Thursdays have gotten a lot more busy since they added the new flights," he said.
Meanwhile, business at the bar has stayed mostly flat, bartender Tom Holloway said.
"We haven't seen a big jump yet, we're just now coming into our season," which lasts from May through July, Holloway said.
Though the statistics point to a renewed local interest in flying, in an industry tied closely to oil prices and consumers' whims, nothing is for certain, Landguth said.
"Will we be able to sustain these numbers? I don't know," he said. "But it's certainly a good way to start the year."
Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at email@example.com or 423-757-6315.