With air freight soaring at Chattanooga Airport, officials plan to expand a cargo ramp on the south end of its main runway.
Airport Authority members agreed Monday to spend more than $2.3 million on the project that's the first of two expansion phases.
"We're making the ramp bigger," said John Naylor, the airport's vice president of planning and development. "We're providing more opportunities for cargo."
Through the first six months, air cargo handled has climbed 240 percent over a year ago to more than 1.3 million pounds, according to the airport.
"We need to support that economic growth," Airport President Terry Hart said.
Airport spokeswoman Christina Siebold said officials believe a lot of the increase is from the Amazon distribution center that the Internet retailer built about a year ago.
She said that some of the increase also is from Volkswagen auto suppliers. Siebold said the airport receives added revenues from landing fees when air cargo is up.
Scott Fiedler of FedEx declined to say if the Memphis-based freight carrier is mulling another increase in the size of its aircraft into Chattanooga.
About a year ago, FedEx went from two smaller planes to a Boeing 727. Fiedler said the next plane up would be a 757, which carries a bigger payload.
Naylor said the project's first phase involves expanding the ramp 55 feet to the south and 90 feet to the east.
Thomas Brothers was low bidder and was awarded a $1.98 million construction contract. The firm Allen & Hoshall Inc. won a $339,000 contract for engineering services and construction administration on the project.
A federal grant is paying for 90 percent the cost of the cargo ramp expansion, Naylor said, with the airport picking up the remainder.
Dan Jacobson, the Authority's chairman, said Lovell Field officials are seeing "solid and strong growth" in air cargo and commercial passengers.
Passenger boardings rose 1.52 percent in June over a year ago to 28,490. For the first half of 2012, boardings are 4.95 percent higher than last year to 155,652, airport figures show.