Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said Thursday that when he has flown into other cities to recruit business, their airports have made better impressions -- and that worried him.
Now, the mayor said, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport's new $5 million general aviation terminal and hangar helps give Lovell Field what's needed to better compete.
"We're in the big leagues," he said at the new terminal on the west side of the main runway that will service corporate aircraft and other general aviation business.
In officially taking the wraps off the terminal, Airport Authority Chairman Dan Jacobson called the facilities a new business front door for the city.
"This will be the first and last impression of the city and region," he said.
Wilson Air Center President Bob Wilson, whose Memphis-based company will run the airport-owned facility, said the company will work to make a positive and professional impression.
"This does make the difference," Wilson said about the 9,000-square-foot terminal.
Wilson's operation will compete with existing fixed-base operator Tac Air, which has criticized the building of the new terminal.
Tac Air spokesman David Edwards said the fundamentals concerning the terminal remain the same as a year ago when the project was announced.
"We feel it's unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer dollars," he said. The airport used a grant from the state to pay for 90 percent of the project cost. The airport picked up the remainder.
Businessman Jim Berry, who heads Chattanooga-based Republic Parking System, was announced as the new hangar's first tenant and called Wilson Air good managers of its locations in other cities. Wilson also operates at airports in Houston, Memphis and Charlotte, N.C.
"As for competition, I know all about it," Berry said. "It does keep you on your toes."
Airport officials said that opening up competition at the airport was a key for the new terminal's construction and will help lower aviation fuel prices.
Wilson said it's estimated that since work started on the new terminal last year, users have saved about $1 million at the airport on fuel.
Edwards of Tac Air, however, said fuel prices have nothing to do with Wilson Air and everything to do with the fluctuation in wholesale market prices.
"It's strictly an issue of the market," he said. "How does an FBO [fixed base operator] that's nonoperational have an impact on the fuel market?"
Mike Landguth, the airport's president, said planners foresee general aviation growth in the Chattanooga market in both aircraft based here and passing through. Officials cited the entry into the market of companies such as Volkswagen, Wacker and Amazon.
Landguth also mentioned Wilson Air's high industry marks for service. Earlier this week, he said, a customer was looking for a certain kind of beer, and a Wilson employee went to 11 different locations until finding it.
Airport Authority member Mike Mallen called the new terminal "best in class." But, he said, he believes there's enough business in Chattanooga for two general aviation businesses serving people flying private planes and jets.
Tom Snow, another Authority member, said competition is "always good."
"We're in FBOs all over the country," he said. "This is a first-class facility."
The terminal is the first phase of $10 million in planned new general aviation facilities at the airport. The second phase includes more hangar space.
While one hangar went up next to the terminal, Landguth said there's space for 60,000 square feet of added hangars when demand drives construction later.