When Volkswagen AG's chairman and other top leaders of the automaker flew into Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport last week, they arrived on three corporate aircraft.
"They were some of the largest corporate jets I've seen at the airport," said Mayor Ron Littlefield, with one the size of a typical 150-seat MD-80, the largest plane that commercial airlines fly into the city. "There will be more of that in the future."
To better service VW and other businesses, city and airport officials on Wednesday unveiled plans to build $10 million in facilities.
"It's an important building block in our economic future," Littlefield said.
Most of the facilities will serve general aviation flights and pilots, but a new fueling operation will appeal to the airlines by lowering their costs, said Mike Landguth, the airport's president.
He said the airport also plans to seek proposals for another fixed-base operator to run the new site.
Tac Air is the airport's existing fixed-base operator, which supplies fuel and hangar space.
"Pilots have told us that they would not refuel here because of pricing, and I have been asked by the airlines and corporate pilots to create a more competitive environment," Landguth said.
The airport plans to build a new 9,000-square-foot general aviation terminal and office complex on eight acres on the west side of the main runway, opposite existing facilities.
Also, a 12,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art hangar facility will go up nearby along with the fueling center, according to the airport.
The state will pay 90 percent of the cost while the airport will pay for the rest out of its operations budget, Landguth said.
Pearlis Johnson of the Federal Aviation Administration said $3 million in stimulus money was used to pave an aircraft parking area at the site.
Littlefield said no city general tax money will go into the project.
He said the new facilities will help the city prepare for growth due to VW's auto assembly plant, its suppliers, Wacker's planned new manufacturing plant in Bradley County and other business.
"We expect growth," Littlefield said.
Work on the new facilities could start this fall and be finished in summer 2011, Landguth said.
Airport officials said they expect operations by aircraft at Lovell Field to increase from 78,700 in 2007 to 93,000 in 2027.
Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority's chairman, called the planned facilities the most important since the airline passenger terminal was redone in 1992.
"This answers a need expressed loudly and clearly by our customers," he said. "Competition in any industry is healthy."
But this isn't the first time airport officials have talked about another fixed-base operator and added facilities on the west side.
Three years ago the airport entertained proposals and later backed away, saying the two companies which made offers weren't responsive.
One of the companies then was existing operator Tac Air. At that time, Tac Air officials criticized the interest in a second FBO, saying it could create two unhealthy operations.
Tac Air officials Wednesday declined comment.
Brian Davis, Allegiant Air's director of airport planning, said any step that lowers its fuel costs in a market boosts the strength of its routes and improves the chances of new service.
"Fuel is our largest expense," he said about the low-fare carrier that flies to Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg from Chattanooga.
Tom Snow, chief executive of the T.J. Snow Co. Inc. in Chattanooga and a frequent general aviation user, said he has had no problems with Tac Air, but that competition is "always good."
New hangar space is especially attractive, he said. In addition, he'd like to see a self-serve fuel pump at the airport.
"We don't mind doing some of the work on our own to save a dollar," he said.