Passenger boardings at the Chattanooga Airport are on the ascent again this year and may jet past 400,000 this year for the first time ever.
To help address the parking crunch created by the increased passenger traffic, airport officials Monday approved plans for $3.4 million in improvements, including adding 300 more spaces and a new "economy" lot.
In March, boardings climbed 13.2 percent over a year ago to 32,859 passengers, the best month so far this year. For the first three months of the year, boardings are up 14.4 percent above last year.
Chattanooga Airport passenger traffic rose 14.4 percent in the first quarter of 2015 over the prior year.
* January: 28,201 boardings, up 16.2 percent
* February: 25,986 boardings, up 14 percent
* March: 32,859 boardings, up 13.2 percent
* Total 1st quarter: 87,046, up 14.4 percent
Source: Chattanooga Airport
In all of 2014, passenger traffic in Chattanooga rose nearly 14 percent over the 2013 levels with 352,459 persons boarding flights at Lovell Field -- the highest number of boardings since 1992.
Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, said the airport's goal is to fly beyond 400,000 passengers this year.
"Based on the [parking lots], we're on track," he told the Airport Authority at a meeting.
Airport officials agreed to work by Dillard Construction to add 300 parking spaces at the airport, pushing the total up to 1,600 spots.
The spaces will be added where an old hangar recently was torn down next to the intermediate parking lot. Hart said about 100 of those spaces will go toward the economy lot. All-day parking at that lot could be about $6, he said.
Authority Chairman Dan Jacobson said the extra parking is needed to help facilitate the airport's growth. "In order to grow, we must continue to build," he said.
John Naylor, the airport's vice president of planning and development, said the expansion will include canopies under which travelers can walk in the airport's parking lots. He said some of the canopy work in the lots will be staggered.
Construction on the new parking is slated to start around the first of next month, a Dillard official said.
Authority member Jim Hall said there had been discussion of spending upward of $20 million to build a parking garage at the airport, but the buyout of former airport general aviation operator TAC Air made nearby land available. He said passengers like surface parking better than garages.
But he questioned why repaving work won't be done on airport parking lots at the same time.
Farzana Mitchell, another board member, also wondered why all the canopy work would not be done at one time.
Hart said there are different funding sources involved. State and local money is being used for the new spaces, while much of the canopy work will depend on tapping into passenger facility charge funds, he said.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.