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Staff file photo / Travelers wait at baggage claim at Chattanooga Airport.

Beth Stephens said she flies out of Chattanooga Airport frequently and likes that it's close to her house, parking is reasonable, and she moves rapidly through the security checkpoint.

"I don't have to do a lot of walking," she said Tuesday at Chattanooga's airport.

Passengers like Stephens who choose to fly at Lovell Field are helping boost boardings in Chattanooga to record levels. Last year, Chattanooga Airport posted its sixth consecutive year of record traffic, blowing past last year's mark by nearly 10%. The airport boarded 554,050 passengers in 2019, according to the latest figures.

Airport officials have credited the city's growing economy along with added flights and competitive fares for the sharp gain in passenger boardings, up 90% since 2010.

Chattanooga Airport Chief Executive Terry Hart cited the passengers who choose to fly in and out of the city. For years, many Chattanooga area travelers drove to other airports such as Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham to fly.

PASSENGER BOARDINGS

Last year marked the sixth straight record year at Chattanooga Airport:

* 2019 - 554,050

* 2018 - 504,298

* 2017 - 484,517

* 2016 - 419,059

* 2015 - 392,139

* 2014 - 352,459

Source: Chattanooga Airport

A 2011 study by a consultant hired by Chattanooga Airport showed that nearly two of every three travelers in metropolitan Chattanooga flew out of other cities, often to take advantage of nonstop flights.

"Without our passengers, airline partners and area businesses that support development and growth, we would be unable to reach such remarkable benchmarks for the sixth consecutive year," Hart said.

Last year, the airport added a 10th city to which it flies nonstop when Philadelphia joined the list.

Hart has identified Houston and Miami as two cities officials are interested in wooing more nonstops.

Kim White, president and CEO of the nonprofit, downtown redevelopment group River City Co.. said that convenience and more destinations help attract new businesses.

"It is evident that greater access to major cities is attracting new businesses and jobs to our area," she said.

Stephens noted a couple of improvements she'd like to see: still more flights and jet bridges for all departing and arriving planes.

But, she said, she's looking forward to construction of a parking garage, the airport's first. The airport is building a $25 million, four-level parking facility to accommodate 1,300 vehicles.

Site work is expected to begin this spring. Financed by rental car revenues and airport funds, completion is expected to take about a year, according to airport officials.

In addition, the airport is planning the biggest expansion to the passenger terminal since the existing facility's opening in 1991. Design is expected to begin this year.

Dan Jacobson, the Chattanooga Airport Authority's chairman, said that while ease of traveling to and from Lovell Field is unchanged, the airport is adding more amenities.

He said that in late 2019, the Transportation Safety Administration launched PreCheck services at the airport, allowing pre-approved travelers to pass through the checkpoint without having to remove their shoes or belts or unpack their laptops.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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