Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Figures Climb

Mar. 28--Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport boardings climbed last month and are up slightly for the year, despite earlier forecasts of a drop in 2006.

However, one official expressed concern over high air fares.

"There are more enplanements but there is still a fare problem," said Airport Authority member Jim Hall.

Boardings grew 2.3 percent in February over the same month a year ago to 19,735 passengers. For the first two months of the year, boardings are up less than 1 percent, according to airport figures.

Airport officials had projected that a drop in available aircraft seats in the market most likely would drive traffic down about 9 percent in 2006.

Mike Landguth, the airport president, said at a meeting of the Authority that he is encouraged by the higher passenger numbers so far this year, and officials are making progress on lowering fares by working with the airlines.

"We're starting to get competitive fares. It's not every market and not every time," he added.

But Mr. Hall said the regional airlines serving the airport still aren't competitive with discount carrier Southwest Airlines out of Nashville and Birmingham.

"We need to keep the pressure on these carriers," he said.

Mr. Hall suggested that possibly Chattanooga's congressional delegation could visit the carriers to help get fares down.

Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority's chairman, said he recently bought a ticket on short notice from Chattanooga to Durham, N.C., for less than the price someone else paid out of Atlanta.

Mr. Jacobson said he thinks the airport is "poised for another good year."

Airport boardings in 2005 were up 5.8 percent over the prior year as new service from Chattanooga to Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston help lift the passenger numbers.

Officials said they saw more passengers flying out of Chattanooga rather than driving to other airports to fly.

However, bankrupt Delta Air Lines has cut the number of seats in and out of Chattanooga.

In February, Atlantic Southeast Airlines, an affiliate of Delta, showed a 2.8 percent drop in boardings. Delta-owned Comair's boardings were unchanged in the month, according to the airport.