Airport to get at least two bomb detectors

As holiday travelers converge at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport this week, officials said Monday they're planning the biggest security upgrade at Lovell Field since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Bomb detection devices, conference table-sized pieces of equipment that scan checked baggage, are slated to be installed in 2008 near the airport terminal's ticket counters.

Airport officials expect to land at least two and possibly four of the devices, which cost about $375,000 each, from the federal Transportation Security Administration.

"It should improve overall security at the airport," said Mike Landguth, the airport's CEO.

With passenger boardings swelling at the airport, up a record 24.7 percent in October over a year ago, officials said the devices will speed up check-in when they're installed, likely by Thanksgiving.

John Naylor, the airport's vice president of planning and development, said the equipment scans passenger bags for explosives or anything suspicious.

"You won't have to physically open the bag," Mr. Naylor said. "The bag searches will be more private."

Currently, TSA personnel use trace detectors in front of the ticket counters.

"Right now, we have a mess in the lobby," Mr. Naylor said.

Airport Authority member Jim Hall said he'd like to see the equipment installed in a way that makes the ticketing area more attractive.

"We have an opportunity to upgrade and provide a professional look," he said.

The federal government will pay for the equipment, Mr. Naylor said. The airport and the state will pick up the installation cost, which could hit the $200,000 range, he said. The state would pay about 90 percent of that cost, Mr. Naylor said. Knoxville's airport, and others similarly sized and larger, have the equipment, he said.

Mr. Naylor said the devices will have "a significant impact on passenger service."

Boardings at the airport climbed to 28,394 passengers in October, and for the year are up 22.5 percent.

Also, in December, low-fare carrier Allegiant Air is to add Fort Lauderdale nonstop flights while discount airline Skybus will start flying directly to Columbus, Ohio, from Chattanooga.

"We're continuing in the right direction," said Authority Chairman Dan Jacobson.

All of the carriers serving the airport showed traffic gains in October, airport figures show.