First steel up in Chattanooga Airport’s $28 million terminal expansion; project wins $5 million grant

Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / Alex Fischer works on the expansion at the Chattanooga Airport on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. The $28 million project will add new boarding gates, grow the security checkpoint and bolster amenities, according to the airport.

The first steel girder is in the ground as Chattanooga Airport's terminal expansion begins to take flight, and the project has captured a $5 million federal grant to help pay the cost, an official said Monday.

"We're 90 days in. A lot of activity has been going on," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, at a meeting of the Airport Authority.

Hart told the panel the $5 million grant is part of pot of funds earmarked for airport terminals nationally that was included in President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill passed by Congress late last year.

"Chattanooga is the only Tennessee airport to receive money from that fund," he said.

Hart said the grant will enable the airport to use fewer passenger facility charge funds for the expansion. He said that will permit the use of those funds for other projects at the airport. The charge is a fee on each passenger ticket at the airport.

When finished in 2024, the expanded terminal will add 26,000 square feet and renovate 36,000 square feet, according to the airport. The project will add new gates so passengers can board more planes, enlarge the security checkpoint and bolster amenities for travelers.

The $28 million price tag makes the work the largest expansion ever to the terminal in terms of dollars, Hart said.

Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority's vice chairman, said at the meeting that the expansion is on time and on budget.

Air traffic continues to claw back from the depths of the pandemic, he said. Jacobson cited figures that expect U.S. air travel to be at 83% of pre-pandemic levels by year's end.

"There's a lot of chaos and confusion," the airport official added.

That percentage of travelers compared to pre-pandemic numbers is expected to rise to 94% in 2023, 103% in 2024 and 111% in 2025, he said.

Hart said Chattanooga Airport passenger boardings were flat last month compared to the same period a year ago. But the airport for the year is seeing boardings up 23.3% to 285,792 passengers so far in 2022 compared to 2021.

Hart said boardings are hindered by the number of seats the airlines are flying into the market. He said an industrywide pilot shortage is a key factor and the carriers are cutting service into a number of markets nationally.

"This pilot shortage is real," Hart said.

The airport posted its worst year for passenger traffic in nearly four decades in 2020 amid the pandemic. A down 2020 ended six consecutive years of record boardings at the airport. In 2019, the airport had 554,000 passengers climb into commercial aircraft, which was up nearly 10% over 2018.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.