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Staff file photo by Doug Strickland / Fueled by more airline seats, Chattanooga Airport officials are working to keep up with record growth and planning changes for 2019.
One of the reasons people come here is convenience. We want to make it user friendly.

Chattanooga Airport experienced its busiest month ever in October as boardings surged past 50,000 passengers for the first time, according to officials.

Airport officials are grappling to keep up with record growth and planning changes for 2019 and beyond to stay ahead of the demand by fliers.

"We've grown a lot," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive officer. "You want to be ahead of the growth."

Bolstered by new capacity from Delta Air Lines into New York City and Atlanta, and upgrades by American Airlines and United Airlines, October boardings hit a high mark of 50,907, up 6.5 percent from a year ago.

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November boardings were 45,713 passengers, up 1.88 percent. Through November, boardings are up 3.95 percent for the year to 463,816, figures show.

For 2018, airport officials expect boardings to surpass the 500,000 mark for the first time and set a record for the fifth consecutive year.

To meet demand, officials already are dealing with parking issues. The Airport Authority earlier this week agreed to take steps to find nearly 800 more spaces within four or five months, including building a new 520-space lot. The airport also is raising parking rates for the first time in six years to help pay for parking and other improvements.

Hart said the addition of more airline seats in the market started to squeeze parking availability in September. While no one was turned away, there were several times when space outside the gated parking lots was used for airport travelers and they parked for free, he said.

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"Worse case on a number of occasions, we'd open up in back of the gate and move 50 to 60 vehicles behind hangars and everyone there was free parking," Hart said. "To me that's OK because we took care of the customers."

Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority chairman, said he appreciated the airlines and the confidence they've expressed in adding more seat capacity into the market.

"There's lots of progress and improvements in the upward direction," he said. "What a way to end the year with enplanements. October was another benchmark."

Looking ahead, Hart said work on a 1,300-space parking garage could start in 2019, with a likely completion date in 2020.

Also, a long-range plan for the airport calls for expanding the number of gates at the terminal where planes can load and unload commercial passengers, though no time frame has been announced.

In addition, more services for airport users could be added after travelers pass through the security checkpoint. Additionally, the airport officials are looking at seeking a second lane through security to speed travelers onto their flights.

"One of the reasons people come here is convenience," Hart said earlier this week. "We want to make it user friendly."

He said the Chattanooga area economy is pushing passenger growth at the airport. Hart said about 70 percent of travel at Lovell Field is for business.

Hart said the airport also is wooing more North Georgia travelers.

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

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