Chattanooga Airport terminates concessionaire

Chattanooga Airport terminates concessionaire

August 20th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

The Chattanooga Airport terminal.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

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Chattanooga Airport has terminated the contract of the company that has been running its restaurant and gift shop, citing quality issues and other complaints, and they hired a new operator on Monday.

However, the general manager for the longtime existing concessionaire said airport officials had led them to believe that complaints weren't the issue, but rather it was a desire to get a better deal from the new company handling the operations.

"We were told it was nothing we had done," said Jennifer Taber, general manager for Air Host's operations at the airport. "Their interest was in doing a multimillion-renovation [of the terminal.] They wanted to go a different direction and start with a clean slate."

The airport agreed to terminate the contract for Air Host, which had operated at the terminal since 2001, and hire Tailwind Concessions.

Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, said the new agreement was developed in response to feedback from airport customers and employees. Hart said the airport will have to pay Air Host $498,500 to terminate the contract. But, Tailwind plans to pay that back in two separate payments.

Also, Tailwind will pay the airport 10 percent of gross receipts, up from 5 percent from the agreement with Air Host, Hart said. Tailwind will begin operations on Oct. 1. Hart said he expects airport receipts to increase from about $60,000 to $70,000 a year to upwards of $120,000.

He said the airport issued a request for proposals to firms in the industry, but only one company, Tailwind, responded. Hart said that was likely because the RFP included the pay-back provision.

Jess Backhaus, operations director for Tailwind, said Chattanooga Airport has been on the company's radar. It already it is in nine other airports, including Tri-Cities Airport in upper East Tennessee.

He said plans are to introduce new items to the Chattanooga Airport restaurant menu, such as offerings related to local eateries or breweries. Backhaus said he plans to hire locally and give current employees an opportunity to apply to his company.

Taber said her boss told here four weeks ago that the airport had approached it about buying out the contract. Based on what her boss told her, she said, Air Host was led to believe it was not because of complaints about quality or similar issues.

"I believe the airport wanted to renegotiate so they could double their profit," Taber said. She said Air Host received just six major complains in the last decade.

The most common request, Taber said, was for more options at the airport such as could be offered by a food court.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.