The number of passengers boarding flights in Chattanooga rose for the third consecutive year during 2012, and officials said Monday they're planning one of the biggest upgrades to the passenger terminal since it was built more than 20 years ago.
The work on the passenger terminal, which could start this year, is seen as "a major enhancement," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive.
Hart told Airport Authority members that passenger boardings rose 1.03 percent to 307,162 passengers in 2012 over the prior year. It was the sixth highest level since the airport starting keeping figures in 1971.
Hart cited an expanding Chattanooga area economy as driving the increase.
The 2012 boardings hike was slightly better than the nationwide average. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, boardings were up 0.8 percent across the country for the 12 months ending in October 2012, the latest figure available.
Hart termed 2012's passenger numbers "encouraging."
"We're not too far off" from the all-time high, he said. The airport recorded 311,139 boardings in 1993.
The airport reported even bigger increases from both cargo shipments and private aircraft landings.
Air cargo business more than doubled last year with the growth of Amazon and other area businesses, Hart said. General aviation for local aircraft rose 34.1 percent while itinerant flights on private aircraft were up 11.9 percent in 2012.
On Monday, the Airport Authority agreed to spend $200,000 with Chattanooga builder EMJ Corp. to work with an architect to present renderings and cost documents for the terminal project.
EMJ is slated to report back to the panel by the end of March.
Doug Martin, EMJ's executive vice president, said the company is "ready to go to work."
Hart declined to give more details related to the newest terminal revamp.
Last year, the airport did a major security upgrade in the terminal. The airport received a full-body scanner at the checkpoint for the first time. Also, the airport opened a second security lane during peak travel times to help speed passengers to their gates.
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