When Frank Grant, a North Georgia carpet executive leaves on a company trip this month he will take the 45-minute drive up to Chattanooga, to catch a mid-morning flight. He will spend 15 minutes parking, confirming his seat, checking a bag and going through security. Then, he’s off!
“Around 70% of the weekday flights are business related,” says CHA Executive Director and CEO, Terry Hart. “Due to competitive fares, additional flights and the convenience factor, customers are coming from farther away.”
Hart has seen a 50% increase in annual enplanements since 2013 and he says weekend enplanements are also increasing. Walking through the long-term parking lot of the ℹ Chattanooga Metro Airport (CHA) on a Thursday, in fact, one sees a variety of license plates. Most are from Tennessee, yet increasingly Georgia and Alabama plates appear, especially at the end of the week.
“The increase in leisure travelers fills the parking lots each weekend,” says Hart. “The demographic is trending younger, which also contributes to the additional volume.”
As demand continues, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority (CMAA) board of commissioners faces the question, what will we do to expand capacity? By this time next year, a new 20-year master plan by an approved FAA consultant will have studied the growth, made predictions and will be addressing how to build infrastructure to support that anticipated growth. The board knows that 700,000 enplanements in 15-20 years is not unlikely. “This steady increase will require more capital projects that will add more gates for access and amenities, additional parking solutions and new hangers for general aviation traffic.”
Already hangers are operating at 98% capacity. West Star Aviation has recently built its third regional base in Chattanooga, initially with 60 employees. Two new hangers are in the construction process and the company plans to add 100 jobs. The project will be similar to the company’s other hubs in East Alton, Illinois and Grand Junction, Colorado. Both of those locations employ roughly 300 people. It is one more visible sign of the robust growth in the area and CMAA expects to be prepared.
“The master plan identifies the airport’s assets and needs, and will justify FAA funding for these airport projects, plus make discretionary funds available for special projects, such as safety,” says CMAA President Dan Jacobson.
“We are lucky to be in a market that is growing—not all airports are,” adds Hart.
Additional Flights Available
New flights are the main attraction for making CHA a more popular and thriving point of departure and destination. The amenities and ease of navigating the process—lighter traffic to and from the airport, smoother security measures, convenient car rental services—make the experience less stressful.
There are several new destinations being discussed. American Airlines’ Chattanooga to Miami flight is among them. United Airlines will explore a nonstop flight to Houston, conveniently giving Chattanooga Volkswagen access to its sister plant in Puebla, Mexico. It will also look at a direct flight to Washington Dulles Airport. The airline will also offer direct flights to Newark, New Jersey (serving NYC) and Chicago.
Delta will continue direct Atlanta and Detroit flights, but will often be using larger, main line aircraft. Allegiant is reviewing service to Destin, Florida, continuing its direct flights to Orlando/Sanford and Tampa/St. Pete.
Here for the Community
Last October was one of the busiest months on record for the airport with over flowing parking lots and lines of cars waiting to pay at kiosks. As overall parking needs are addressed, new departure kiosks from the parking areas will also be added for a smooth exit.
“Parking will continue to be an issue,” says Hart. With lots for Short Term, Long Term I and Long Term II at capacity, CHA has expanded to include remote parking from an Airport Road location, where many employees already park. Travelers who park and ride the shuttle over would be dropped at the door with their luggage in tow, rather than rolling it from their parking space. Efficiencies help keep costs in line for CHA and the airport is passing those savings along to the community. It is well on its way to becoming energy neutral through its 2.1 megawatt solar collection site at the west end of the field. Over 65% of airport power is sold back to TVA which lowers the EPB utility cost. The third phase of the solar energy plan includes larger storage capacity. “Very soon we will begin to produce all the power we use,” adds Hart.
Making transportation convenient, efficient—even pleasant, and destinations more abundant is the goal, say airport officials. As the CHA brand tagline boasts, it should be “in, out—easy!” Terry Hart is proud of the CMAA’s accomplishments, emphasizing, “The airport exists to support the community, as it grows—we grow.”