This story was updated at 6:23 p.m. on Monday, June 15, 2020, with more information.
United Airlines is cutting service at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport starting in July and lasting at least through September due to the downturn in travelers nationally from the coronavirus.
Airport officials on Monday said air traffic is rebounding slowly from the sharp drop over the past several months. The Airport Authority approved a new annual budget with revenues expecting to plunge 38% from the current spending plan.
"More people are coming through the building, though it's a smaller number," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, at a meeting of the panel.
Airport boardings were down 86.3% in May compared to a year ago, according to Lovell Field, with just 6,843 passengers getting on a plane. Passenger boardings in Chattanooga were down nearly 95% in April from the same month in 2019.
Hart said that United, which is flying between Chicago O'Hare International Airport and Chattanooga, will stop service from July 3 or 4 through Sept. 30.
United, which resumed service in Chattanooga in 2017 after a 15-year absence, has indicated that the stoppage is temporary, he said.
"I believe they still have the intent on coming back after the suspension," Hart said.
Delta Air Lines, which flies the most passengers in and out of Chattanooga, expects to be up to five daily departures to its Atlanta hub in August, about half of the number of fights it offered before the outbreak, the airport CEO said. Delta had been providing just two daily trips at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, and it has cut out service from Chattanooga to Detroit and New York.
But Hart said he's not certain when Delta will return the larger jets to Chattanooga.
"It's going to take time to see them return," he said.
Airport Authority member Dr. Paul Conn said he was concerned that Delta was retiring some of its bigger jets.
"That's most of the two-cabin seats in and out of Chattanooga," he said.
Because Delta is flying smaller than usual aircraft to the city, some people have had a difficult time booking seats, Hart said.
Also, he said, the airline is only booking about 60% of its seats on flights due to social distancing.
Concerning the new budget year that starts July 1, Hart expected revenues to come in at about $13.1 million. While that's down 38%, it does not include any parking or airline fee increases, he said.
"It's built on a schedule of a slow increase in flights," Hart said.
The new budget includes eliminating six open positions and keeping salaries level at the airport, he said.
Expenses are expected to come in next budget year at $11.4 million, down 21%, Hart said.
He said plans are to use a $5.7 million grant from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Congress adopted this spring to balance the budget.
"I don't see us having to dip into reserves," Hart said.
He said plans are to continue work on several projects, including its $25 million parking garage and the design of a future expanded terminal, which is part of the airport's master plan.
Dan Jacobson, Airport Authority chairman, termed the new spending plan "a good, middle-of-the-road budget."
He said some other airports are pausing major projects or raising fees.
"I'm happy to say the Chattanooga Airport is fortunate to keep on track with no fee increases," Jacobson said.
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