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Chattanooga Airport

Chattanooga Airport is tweaking parking rates as passenger boardings rise, and its solar farm may grow to make it the first airport nationally to generate as much power as it uses, officials said Monday.

Airport officials agreed to a new budget starting July 1 that boosts long-term parking fees by $1 a day. But the budget plan also trims its intermediate lot rate by that amount and creates a new $6 economy lot.

Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, said that more parking revenue is expected to be generated over the current budget year. The daily long-term rate will rise from $8 to $9. The intermediate lot will drop from $10 to $9, he said. Short-term parking will stay at $16 daily, Hart said.

"Our volume is increasing, but even with that simplification [in parking rates], we see an increase in our parking revenues next year," he said at a meeting of the Airport Authority.

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Terry Hart, president and CEO of Chattanooga Airport

Chattanooga Airport's passenger boardings posted a 14.6 percent gain in April as Lovell Field continued on pace for a new record of more than 400,000 enplanements for all of 2015. The old record of 352,459 was set last calendar year.

Some 32,608 passengers boarded an airline in Chattanooga last month. For the year, boardings are 14.4 percent higher through April, figures show.

"Growth is great," said Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority's chairman.

Hart said airport parking lots are pressed by the rise in passenger boardings, which he attributed to competitive air fares and more people choosing to fly out of Chattanooga.

He expected that it will take about 60 days to complete the addition of more parking spaces to the intermediate lot that's already underway. Last month, airport officials approved plans for $3.4 million in parking lot improvements, including adding 300 spaces.

Hart said the new budget does not increase airline landing fees, rental rates, nor hangar fees.

Concerning the solar farm, airport officials will explore a third phase, looking for grant money to help pay the cost. It would make Lovell Field the nation's first airport to generate enough electricity to pay 100 percent of what it uses, Hart said. The airport sells the electricity it generates from the solar farm to TVA, he said.

Hart said the Federal Aviation Administration "has expressed an interest to us getting to that level."

Currently, the airport generates enough electricity to pay for about 62 percent of Lovell Field's costs, he said.

The new budget's general operating revenue is almost $9.5 million, up about 2 percent. Also, there's a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for employees, Hart said. Expenses are up about 2 percent and the budget is balanced for 2016, he said.

For the fixed-base operator's budget, operating revenue is almost $10 million, up 2 percent from the 2015 forecast, Hart said. Expenses are $9.1 million, up 1 percent. Net operating revenues are $830,000, up 5 percent, he said.

Asked if there's a positive budget number if debt service is added to expenses, Hart said it's "pretty close on that."

The new budget honors all the discounts it earlier had in place and won't increase rental rates related to the FBO, Hart said. He said the money spent to buy out former FBO TAC Air also allows the airport to grow parking without having to build an expensive parking garage.

Jim Hall, an Airport Authority member, said plans are to continue to track the FBO figures.

"There was a large investment made by the board," he said. "There's no question customer service has dramatically increased."

Dave Ivey, vice president for FBO Wilson Air Center, said new hangar space is needed for private aircraft. He said if a larger company wanted to put in a plane, there would currently be no place for it.

Last month, airport officials said they're planning for the third, and largest, new hangar in the last four years. They want to add a $4 million hangar on the west side of the main runway.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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