Higher traffic at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport is spurring officials to consider expanding the passenger concourse and boosting parking, and they're pursuing seasonal nonstops to Destin, Fla.
Also, the record passenger boardings at Lovell Field have helped earn airport chief Terry Hart a new six-year deal.
"We've been on steroids for five years," said Airport Authority member Mike Mallen at a meeting of the panel Monday as he endorsed the new contract for Hart, who currently makes $158,377 a year.
Hart said boardings have climbed 19.23 percent in the first seven months of 2017 compared with the same period a year ago as the airport heads for another all-time annual high for a fourth consecutive year.
He cited competitive fares as the No. 1 reason followed by the convenience of flying out of Chattanooga rather than driving to another airport to travel.
Airport officials say Lovell Field could hit a fourth consecutive year of record passenger boardings after the prior high mark set in 1993 held for two decades:
› 1993: 311,204
› 2014: 352,459
› 2015: 392,139
› 2016: 419,059
› 2017: 271,528 (through July)
Source: Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport
"It's good to see people get on board and start their air travel here," Hart said.
The airport CEO said an Airport Authority retreat this week will look at the potential of expanding the facility, including adding gates and passenger services to the concourse after they pass through the security checkpoint. Also, they'll look at creating more automobile parking next to the terminal.
A new long-range master plan now under study will set future traffic marks, he said, and hitting those would spur the expansions.
"As the numbers rise, those will trigger the need for infrastructure to support growth," Hart said, adding the study will help figure out how to fund the improvements.
Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority chairman, said boardings could hit 450,000 passengers or beyond in 2017.
"We expect another record," he said.
Hart said United Airlines' nonstops between Chattanooga to Newark, N.J., serving New York City, are now filling at least 80 percent of available airline seats.
"The key is to sustain that over the winter," he said.
Meanwhile, Hart said discount carrier Allegiant Air is considering starting nonstop service between Chattanooga and Destin, Fla., next summer.
"They've reached out to us about that," he said. "We're excited about that. I believe there are a lot of people who vacation and have second homes (in the Destin area)."
Lovell Field officials are collecting data to send this week to Allegiant, which could fly nonstops twice a week from May to September, Hart said.
Through July, Allegiant passenger boardings from Lovell Field have grown by 4.8 percent over the same period a year ago, according to the airport.
Allegiant, which already flies between Chattanooga and Sanford, Fla., and St. Petersburg, Fla., likely will decide this fall on whether to offer the expanded service to Destin, Hart said.
Allegiant offers nonstops to Destin from 15 cities, Hart said.
Airport attorney Hugh Moore Jr. said the new Hart contract is for six years with a two-year extension.
Pay would start at the same level as now, though there are increases and bonus provisions.
Jim Hall, the Authority's vice chairman, said he'd like to look at putting into place annual performance reviews for key airport staff. Jacobson said he expected that would happen.
Hall also said he'd like to see training for successors of the posts.
"It's important to keep a keep team," he said. "We're moving out of the days of being a small airport. We've had an outstanding period of growth at the airport. I think that will continue."
In addition, Authority member Farzana Khaleel said that while it's encouraging to see added boardings, she asked if there could be customer satisfaction surveys carried out.
"Are the customers satisfied with the service, with the quality of the airport?" she asked.
Khaleel said airport officials could monitor information on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. Hart said such a program could be put together.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.