Chattanooga Airport renews effort to secure nonstop NYC flights

Chattanooga Airport renews effort to secure nonstop NYC flights

March 21st, 2016 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region
John Shipp walks through the atrium at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. Passenger boarding is up for the second year is a row.

John Shipp walks through the atrium at Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport plans to make another run at nonstop flights to New York City as it tries to land a federal grant to help attract an air carrier for the service.

The grant could range from $500,000 to $750,000 and be used for marketing or as a revenue guarantee for an airline, said Airport CEO Terry Hart on Monday.

"It gives us a means to tell Chattanooga's story," he said at an Airport Authority meeting, adding that the New York market is the No. 1 destination of Lovell Field users not served with nonstops.

Hart said at least 15 percent of the grant amount would be matched locally. He said the airport will seek the money from businesses which would benefit from the service.

"We'll go out to the community and get the match request," he said.

The airport chief also said the grant application will need a letter of support from a carrier. In the past, airport officials have talked about seeking United Airlines service into nearby Newark, N.J., which acts as its New York hub.

Airport officials sought the grant money two years ago but weren't successful.

The grant request comes as Lovell Field passenger boardings rose nearly 9 percent in February, officials said. For the year, traffic is up 6.2 percent over the same period in 2015.

Low-fare carrier Allegiant Air reported a 30 percent gain in boardings in January and February over last year as the airline with flights between Chattanooga and Florida tweaked its schedule to bolster service, said Hart.

Airport officials said they're hopeful airlines serving Chattanooga will add bigger planes with more seats on existing service to Detroit and Dallas later this year.

The airport is coming off back-to-back traffic records for the first time since record-keeping began at Lovell Field in 1971, officials said.

Wilson Air contract

Airport officials also agreed Monday to exercise a 5-year option on its contract with Memphis-based Wilson Air Center.

The deal with Wilson, which operates the airport's general aviation facilities, calls for a $200,000 annual management fee and another 5-year option, said Hart. That fee, which remains the same, is the amount Wilson Air is paid to manage the assets of the airport.

Dave Ivey, Wilson Air Center's vice president, said fiscal year 2015 net operating income for the airport was a little more than $1 million. Income is currently tracking 30 percent ahead of last year, he said.

"We are on a good track," he said. Hangars are at 100 percent capacity, traffic is up and the economy is favorable for general aviation, Ivey said.

Airport Authority member Jim Hall said Wilson has helped address a problem with fuel prices and made them more competitive.

"You've run a first-class operation," he said.

Tom Snow of T.J. Snow Co., another panel member, said the company used to try to avoid fueling at Lovell Field due to prices when the service was operated by TAC Air. But, he said, fuel prices have improved dramatically.

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


This story was updated March 21 at 10:30 p.m. with more information.