Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, TAC Air aim to settle dispute

Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, TAC Air aim to settle dispute

December 14th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Local Regional News

A Tac Air hanger at the Chattanooga Airport.

Photo by Laura-Chase McGehee/Times Free Press.

A long-running dispute between Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport and general aviation operator TAC Air may be close to throttling down.

Airport officials are believed to be talking to TAC Air about buying the privately held company's extensive holdings of hangar and office space at Lovell Field.

TAC Air's parent, Truman Arnold Cos., has about 180,000 square feet of space with an appraised value of some $7 million, according to the Hamilton County Assessor of Property. The structures were built between 1945 and 2005, the assessor's office said.

On Friday, the airport's finance committee met and is believed to have discussed the issue in a closed session.

Airport Authority Chairman Dan Jacobson said after the meeting that the two are talking. When asked if the talks involved a possible buyout, he said, "We'll see."

Airport officials declined further comment.

David Edwards, marketing director for Texarkana, Texas-based TAC Air, said that it "would not be appropriate for me to comment until anything is complete."

"All I can say is that it's business as usual at TAC Air," he said.

The airport and TAC Air have been battling since 2010, when Lovell Field officials announced the construction of a competing general aviation terminal. The $10 million project, funded in large measure by federal and state grants, was aimed at attracting corporate tenants and personal aircraft.

TAC Air, which is one of the nation's biggest general aviation companies, came to the airport in 2002 after buying locally based Krystal Aviation.

The airport-owned terminal, run by Wilson Air on the west side of the main runway, has been a money loser so far. Projected losses this year will put the total amount of red ink since opening at an estimated $1.31 million, according to the airport.

But airport officials have said the losses are narrowing, that it takes time for a startup to become fiscally viable and it's on track to do so.

City Councilman Larry Grohn said he has heard about a possible buyout of TAC Air. But he wondered why the airport would be interested in TAC Air facilities when officials earlier said the new terminal was built because they wanted more competition.

"I'm having a difficult time understanding," he said, noting a buyout would give the airport authority a monopoly at Lovell Field.

Airport officials said airport users had complained about high fuel costs and a lack of service by TAC Air, and that the private company had not addressed those concerns during more than three years before the new facilities were announced.

But TAC Air officials have said the airport was unfairly competing with a private company and trying to force it to leave. They said the airport raised parking and landing fees last year to support the center's shortfalls.

The conflict even flared up in July when President Barack Obama flew into Lovell Field on Air Force One before speaking at the city's Amazon Fulfillment Center.

The president's plane was taken to the Wilson Air facility rather than TAC Air, which said it had the contract to handle military fueling operations.

"The problem is, we have a landlord who jumped in front of us," said Edwards at the time.

But, the airport said it had no part in where Air Force One parked, noting that it was informed by the Air Force that they planned to use Wilson Air because of operational and security reasons.

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