The Chattanooga Airport is targeting United Airlines as officials woo nonstops to Denver, and they plan to offer $1.12 million in federal and local incentive money for marketing and revenue guarantees to land the flights.
"We'll use it as a recruiting tool," said April Cameron, the airport's chief executive, at a Monday meeting of the Airport Authority.
Cameron said United Airlines officials wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration supporting the airport's request for a $750,000 FAA grant, which Lovell Field received earlier this month.
The grant is coupled with $375,000 in local community, government and business money to try to attract the new service, she said.
Denver is one of the most-sought-after locations not served by Lovell Field nonstop service, airport officials have said. Denver International Airport also offers a lot of connections to points west, according to officials.
United's letter of support doesn't guarantee the carrier will start nonstops between Chattanooga and Denver, Cameron said.
"But they feel like it would be a great option for them," she said. "We'd love to see United fly to Denver."
The discussions with United, which already flies between Chattanooga and Chicago, doesn't mean airport officials won't talk to other airlines about the service, Cameron added.
Still, Chattanooga officials already raised the idea with United about the potential nonstops, and the carrier is working on its growth strategy, she said. The incentives help take away the financial risk to the airline, Cameron said.
Santosh Sankar, an Airport Authority member, said at the meeting he sat next to a United route planner at a conference in Chattanooga that Lovell Field hosted for airlines serving the city earlier this month. The mayors of Chattanooga and Hamilton County along with local business people took part to pitch the airport.
"He liked seeing everyone show up," Sankar said about the United route planner. "He said, 'That's a chip for you all."'
The conference was a first step in a renewed effort to attract more air service, Jim Hall, the authority's chair, said at the meeting. The planned completion early next year of the airport's $28 million terminal expansion is another key step, he said.
The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's updated economic development plan calls more air service a potential game-changer.
"A transformative investment in the quality of air service ... could help Chattanooga become a true contender for headquarters and large professional service organizations," the plan said.
Air service in Chattanooga is "a limiting factor in support of international business recruitment," a developer of the plan said earlier this year. The plan eyes development of an air service fund and a new marketing initiative in collaboration with the airport.
The terminal expansion will add 26,000 square feet and renovate 36,000 square feet. The project is the largest expansion in more than 30 years by size and the most expensive ever, airport officials said.