Chattanooga Airport plans to fund a study that will estimate how many travelers from the area are going to other cities to fly with the hope of using the data to land more air service.
"We'll see how many people are leaking to Atlanta and Nashville and where they're going," said Chattanooga Airport Chief Executive April Cameron in an interview after an Airport Authority meeting Monday.
Cameron said a consultant, Volaire, will conduct the study for $15,000. She said she hoped the results are ready in December.
The airport CEO said officials will use the findings to pitch more air service to airlines, noting they could be flying from Chattanooga.
More than a decade ago, a similar study showed nearly 2 of every 3 travelers from metro Chattanooga fly from other cities. Atlanta's airport, typically the nation's busiest, alone captured 53% of air travelers from the Chattanooga area, according to the study.
Air traffic has picked up a lot at Chattanooga Airport since that time, with boardings nearly doubling from 2011 to the record year of 2019.
Still, Cameron said it's critical to have up-to-date data as officials try to woo more air service.
Chattanooga Airport officials like to use the relative ease of moving through the Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint as a reason to encourage area travelers to fly from the city rather than drive to Atlanta or other airports.
The expansion of the terminal that's underway can be used to help attract more air service, said Jim Hall, the Airport Authority's chair, at the meeting.
The $28 million project will add 26,000 square feet, renovate 36,000 square feet and boost the number of gates for aircraft to load and unload passengers. Work is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2024.
Hall also said he is encouraged by October passenger boardings, which were 21% higher than a year ago.
Cameron said she expects boardings to come in for the year at about 475,000 passengers. That's compared to the 2019 record of 554,000. She said boardings are about 12% higher through October versus the same period in 2022.
Kristen Behm, the airport's vice president of public relations and air service development, said at the meeting the leakage study is key to showing where travelers are coming from, such as North Georgia.
She added a recent roundtable of airport officials showed there's a lot of focus on leisure travel.
Cameron cited last week's announcement of new nonstops on Allegiant Air between Chattanooga and Las Vegas starting in May. She said if other carriers see that route is successful, it could open up more service.
The airport CEO said $25,000 in marketing funds are provided for the new route.