Chattanooga Airport Boardings Surge as Coronavirus Eases

April 19, 2022

Apr. 19—Chattanooga Airport boardings surged in the first three months of the year, up 55.6% over the same period in 2021, as customer demand climbed amid the easing pandemic.

Also, airport officials said Monday that they're trying to garner a $750,000 federal grant to woo new nonstop service — between Chattanooga and Denver — as they seek to add connections to western cities in the United States.

Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, told Airport Authority members at a meeting that air traffic is returning in a major way after it was stricken by the coronavirus pandemic the past two years.

"We started to see an upward trend in January," he said.

March boardings rose 46.7% at the airport as spring breakers took to the skies, Hart said. He expects April's figures to benefit from vacation plans as well, he said.

"The demand is there," Hart said.

Jim Hall, the Airport Authority's chairman, said in an interview after the meeting that he's "very encouraged" by the rising boardings.

Also, he cited the potential Denver nonstops. Airport officials said local businesses have pledged $370,000 to support the new nonstops if Chattanooga receives the federal grant, which they should learn this summer.

Hall said the "application to go west has strong approval from the business community."

Hart said both United Airlines and Frontier Airlines have hubs in Denver and connecting flights to lots of cities in the West, as well as to Alaska.

While passengers are returning to commercial flying, the airlines are bringing back service they temporarily shelved amid the pandemic. Hart said American Airlines has added nonstops to Charlotte, and Delta Air Lines plans to add a second flight to Detroit and has boosted Atlanta service.

In May, American also will begin nonstops once a week between Chattanooga and Miami, he said, and he's hopeful of seeing more flights added.

Hart said seat capacity at the airport is projected to be off just 7% in June compared to the same month in 2019, before the pandemic hit. Nonstops to New York haven't returned yet, he said, as Delta has cited a lack of business traffic.

Moving ahead, one limiting factor for continuing to grow boardings is the number of seats airlines make available in the coming months, the airport's CEO said.

He said pilot and staffing shortages among the airlines is plaguing the industry.

Airlines are cautious about not wanting to leave passengers stranded because of grounded flights over a projected heavy summer travel period, Hart said.

"They don't want to get caught," he said.

In 2019, Chattanooga Airport set a record for boardings with 554,050 passengers. It was the airport's sixth consecutive year of record traffic. Airport officials credited the city's growing economy along with added flights and competitive fares for the sharp gain in passenger boardings, which were up 90% since 2010.

But traffic plunged in Chattanooga and worldwide in 2020 during the pandemic. The airport posted its worst year for passenger traffic in nearly four decades in 2020.

Air traffic improved in 2021, though the coronavirus still hindered boardings. At the same time, the airport moved ahead with its first parking garage, a $25 million facility holding about 1,300 vehicles.

Last January, Chattanooga Airport officials gave a thumbs up to the biggest-ever expansion to the terminal. Work on the project, at a cost of $28 million, is expected to begin in May and take about two years to complete, said Hart.

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.


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