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Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, after a pandemic-stricken 2020 in which traffic plunged to a nearly 40-year low, is seeing a sharp upturn in passenger boardings.

March boardings rose about 46% over February as people traveled during spring break and worries about the coronavirus eased amid mass vaccinations, according to the airport.

"We had a very good March," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive. "Based on traffic so far in April, we see the bar continuing to rise."

Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority's chairman, said during a Monday meeting of the panel that he expects to see leisure travel continue to increase.

"We're also encouraged our airline partners are resuming flights," he said.

Hart said that the airlines, which parked aircraft as passengers stayed home during the pandemic, are starting to increase the number of seats.

The airport will see seats increase from 1,000 in January to about 1,600 in June, the official said.

Also, he said, air carriers are bringing back nonstop flights. This month, American Airlines has returned nonstops between Chattanooga and Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., the official said.

In May, American is adding a fourth nonstop to Dallas-Fort Worth, Hart said. In addition, United Airlines is bringing back a second Chicago flight to Chattanooga.

Additionally, Delta Air Lines, historically Chattanooga's busiest carrier, in June will offer three daily nonstops between the city and Detroit, he said.

Delta also is "adding capacity somewhat" to its key Atlanta hub, Hart said, with plans to include adding one mainline jet to the Chattanooga market.

But, the airport CEO said, nonstops to New York's LaGuardia Airport may not return until September.

"They feel like there won't be business travel to New York," Hart said.

Chattanooga boardings in March were up 17.7% to 24,664 passengers over the same month last year when the pandemic lock down hit air travel worldwide.

Still, for the first quarter of 2021, boardings were off 40.4% compared to a year ago to 58,077 passengers.

A down 2020 ended six consecutive years of record boardings at the airport. In 2019, the Chattanooga airport had 554,050 passengers climb into commercial aircraft, which was up nearly 10% over 2018.

"It was a challenging year for us," Hart said about the pandemic-troubled 2020. "We'll put this behind us."

On Monday, airport officials said that a $25 million, 1,300-space parking garage, under construction since last summer, is still slated for completion this July.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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