Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport officials on Monday said work could start early next year on what's seen as the biggest expansion to the passenger terminal in more than three decades.
"This reflects not only how space works but the customer service impact," said Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority's chairman during a meeting of the panel about the possible $28 million project.
Ray Boaz of DH&W Architects said the planned expansion's first phase would add 26,000 square feet and renovate up to 14,000 square feet.
Boaz said three new gates for passenger loading onto aircraft would be added in phase one to the five existing gates.
He said plans call for adding a third security checkpoint for passengers entering the concourse as well as a separate lane for pre-check fliers.
In the concourse past the checkpoint, a new restaurant, updated restrooms, a cafe and gift shop are eyed, Boaz said.
"We feel like we'll get a nice open design," he said, noting the concourse would have an arched ceiling and terrazzo floors with more windows.
At the same time, Boaz said the airport would keep the existing design thread including its signature rotunda.
"Chattanooga Airport is a jewel," he said. "You'll feel like when you arrived, you're in a new concourse but not in a different airport."
Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, said funding would come from federal grant money and a passenger facility charge the airport puts on airline tickets.
"We think it's something that will be well-received by the community," he said about the possible expansion.
If the airport votes to move forward, the work would come as air travel recovers from the impact of the coronavirus.
In April, the airport boarded 26,856 passengers, figures show. While trending upward, the airport is boarding a little over 50% the number of passengers before the pandemic, Hart said.
Airlines are adding more seats on planes in the market over the summer, but the airport CEO said he expects it will be 2022 before boardings make it all the way back to pre-pandemic levels when traffic was at record highs in Chattanooga.
"It's really driven off business traffic," he said. "Business traffic hasn't come back."
But airport officials believe that traffic will return.
In reviewing the terminal expansion design, Airport Authority Commissioner Donna Roddy said she'd appreciate a new restaurant past the security checkpoint. That would enable her to grab something to eat and drink in the concourse, she said.
Panel member Travis Lytle asked what new seating areas will look like given social distancing in the coronavirus era.
"That's a great question," Boaz said. "Probably seating will be more separate than it is."
Jacobson added that a phase two calls for adding two to four additional gates, and officials said a fourth security checkpoint lane could be built.
Glen Heath of Allen & Hoshall engineering firm said the project could be carried out in 18 to 22 months depending on the phasing of work.
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