Chattanooga Airport officials said Monday they're going to push for adding nonstop New York service, calling it the most flown-to destination from Lovell Field to which the city doesn't have direct flights.
Airport chief Terry Hart also said Delta Air Lines is taking steps to upgrade its performance in Chattanooga, and that the Atlanta-based carrier may place larger aircraft in the city.
Hart told the Airport Authority that plans are to seek up to a $750,000 federal grant that could be coupled with about $102,500 in local funds and used to market nonstop flights to the New York area.
He has had talks with United Airlines, which services New York from nearby Newark International Liberty Airport.
"United has said they're watching this market," Hart said. "They know the market."
Delta also has gained new airline landing slots at LaGuardia Airport in New York, he said.
Hart said airport officials ought to know later this year whether they've got the grant money. The Lovell Field chief said he'll then solicit a 15 percent local match from businesses which have expressed interest in the New York service.
US Airways in the past offered nonstop service between LaGuardia and Chattanooga. But the airline canceled the flights in 2004 after the service lost money, according to the carrier.
Airport Authority Chairman Dan Jacobson said he'd like to see new service to New York and Houston as airlines recognize new business the city has gained over the past decade or so.
"I'm the eternal optimist," he said.
Hart added that international travel from Chattanooga has increased by 35 percent in recent years.
Concerning Delta's on-time performance and the issue of cancelled flights, Hart said he met with officials for the airline and its affiliates about a month ago and talked out concerns expressed about the carrier.
Earlier, organizers of an online petition that garnered more than 200 names and asked airport officials to help create a regional task force aimed at improving the on-time reliability of air service in Chattanooga.
Carlene C. Vital of Chattanoogans for Reliable Transportation said in an earlier letter to Lovell Field officials that the absence of reliable and predictable service is "constantly impairing business connections and travelers who want the convenience of the Chattanooga Airport."
Hart said Monday that Delta data shows its service at the airport is generally in line with other nearby cities to the company's Atlanta hub, such as Augusta, Ga., and Greenville, S.C.
However, he said, there were problems with the first-of-the-day departures from Chattanooga Airport, and he believes Delta has a perception by area fliers that its not reliable.
Hart said Delta has taken steps that should enhance Chattanooga service, such as shifting spare planes to the market when needed and not looking at the city initially to cancel flights when necessary.
Also, he said, Delta is providing him with performance data on a monthly basis.
Airport Authority member Mike Mallen said that getting Chattanooga to the forefront of Delta officials is a positive, and he suggested regular meetings with the airline.
Vital said CHART will take a "wait and see" attitude, and that keeping Chattanooga on Delta's radar is "the kind of thing we want want to hear."
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.