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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 6/24/14. A Delta flight destined for Atlanta docks at the newly renovated CHA Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport passenger boardings soared 12.8 percent in September as Delta Air Lines has added more seats out of Lovell Field, officials said Monday.

Airport Chief Executive Terry Hart said the airlines serving Chattanooga, which now number three at Lovell Field with the merger of US Airways into American Airlines, reported higher boardings last month over a year ago.

"It's been very positive," he said about the boardings increase, which could hit an annual record for the second consecutive year at the airport. For the year through September, boardings are 12.9 percent above a year ago to 289,286 passengers, according to airport figures.

Hart said at a meeting of the Airport Authority that preliminary October numbers look strong in terms of customer bookings. Hart said Delta added 400 seats to the Chattanooga market the first week of October by increasing the size of aircraft out of the city. The next week also was up in numbers of seats, he said.

Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority chairman, said the higher seating capacity helps "lift the airport to new heights."

"We do know our customers have choices," he said.

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Terry Hart, Chattanooga airport

Previous passenger surveys have found as many as half of Chattanooga area travelers drove in the past to airports in Atlanta and Nashville to fly. Chattanooga's air passenger boardings are being helped by better local service and an improving economy, officials said.

For September, boardings were 33,034 passengers. Hart said Delta and American boardings each were up 18 percent for the month over a year ago. Allegiant was 7 percent higher, he said.

Delta has about 50 percent market share in Chattanooga, while American is at about 40 percent, the airport CEO said.

In all of 2014, passenger traffic in Chattanooga rose nearly 14 percent with 352,459 persons boarding flights at Lovell Field — surpassing the old record set in 1992.

Meanwhile, Hart said Illinois-based West Star Aviation has begun work on revamping an existing hangar to set up its new air maintenance facility. He said West Star is slated to see private aircraft flowing through the facility by the end of the year.

West Star Aviation plans to invest $22.5 million into the facility and hire up to 225 people within five years.

Robert Rasberry, the company's chief executive, said wages are expected to average about $26 to $27 an hour.

Plans are to service private aircraft from the eastern part of the United States, the Caribbean and even Europe, he said. West Star Aviation specializes in the repair and maintenance of air frames, windows and engines, as well as major modifications, avionics installation and repair, interior refurbishment, surplus avionics sales, accessory services, paint and parts.

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

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