A jump in passenger volume at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport last month signals an increasing need for long-term expansion plans, board members said Monday.
Boardings at the airport increased by 16 percent in May over the same period a year ago, the fastest rate boardings have increased in four years, according to Mike Landguth, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority.
"Clearly, we have incredible growth in our regional economy," Landguth said. "That growth, combined with extremely competitive fares, is attracting more travelers into the airport."
He's talking about travelers like Devonna Talley, who said she drove 55 minutes to get to the airport because it was less expensive than flying out of Huntsville.
Or Susan Basch, who sipped a glass of wine while she waited, calling the terminal "so much more manageable than the bigger airports," though she hopes to see more nonstop flights soon.
Pastor Lisle Lindsay flew into Chattanooga from Rhode Island on Monday for a church convention and said he's always preferred smaller airports.
"We have smaller airports in Rhode Island, and it's just so much easier," Lindsay said.
But the rise in passenger arrivals and departures, up to 56,814 in May, may force the airport to upgrade and expand its facilities.
The airport's proposed budget this year grew to $12.9 million, with an additional $1 million in planned expenses. To pay for the expenditures, parking fees will go up next month by $1 in the short- and medium-term parking areas. Airline landing fees will rise another 10 cents per 1,000 pounds to $2 per 1,000 pounds.
For a longer-term plan, airport officials looked outside Chattanooga for help creating a new master plan for growth.
The board hired Jerry Voith, vice president and managing principal for Leo A. Daly, the firm responsible for projects ranging from the national World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., to the Georgia Gwinnett College Library in Lawrenceville, Ga.
"As we look to grow into a transportation center for this area, we wanted to make sure that we were going to hire someone who paid attention to our needs," board member Jim Hall said of the firm.
Voith will craft a long-term plan for expanding the airport entrance, adding to the railway right of way, adding a parking structure, expanding the security checkpoint and adding more retail and restaurant capacity.
Voith's recommendation will be "99 percent" complete by this fall, he said. But the Airport Authority is moving ahead on several other projects in the meantime.
One of these is a complete redesign of the ticket booths. Work will be conducted at night to minimize interruption to airport services. That $235,000 project, slated for completion by Sept. 16, will give airport officials more flexibility when adding or removing digital kiosks, with modular parts that can be strapped on or removed at will.
Officials also have hired three additional employees, who primarily will focus on complying with federal regulations, according to April Cameron, vice president of finance and administration.
Hall agreed with the hire.
"With anything the federal government requires, there's going to be a great deal of detail and paperwork," he said, noting that the FAA soon may require a new safety system.
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