published Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Airport sparing: Obama visit to Chattanooga embroiled in ongoing airport fight

President Barack Obama exits Air Force One upon arrival at Chattanooga's Lovell Field.
President Barack Obama exits Air Force One upon arrival at Chattanooga's Lovell Field.
Photo by Tim Barber.

The ongoing skirmish between a pair of general aviation operators at Chattanooga Airport now appears to have drawn in President Barack Obama and Air Force One.

When the president visited Chattanooga on Tuesday, his plane was taken to the airport-owned Wilson Air Center facility rather than to TAC Air, which says it has the contract to handle military fueling operations at Lovell Field.

“The problem is we have a landlord who jumped in front of us,” said Dave Edwards, marketing director at TAC Air. “It’s another example of the problem when you’re competing with your own landlord.”

But, an airport spokesman said it had no part in where Air Force One was parked.

“We were informed by the Air Force that they planned to use Wilson Air Center as the arrival and departure location,” said spokesman Albert Waterhouse. “We were told the ability to limit access to the west side of the air field was attractive to the operational and security teams, and was among their reasons for choosing that location.”

Still, there were reportedly three other aircraft accompanying Air Force One that did refuel at TAC Air. Edwards said the contract with the government should have been honored.

“The airport should have said for this aircraft to go to the facility that has the government contract,” he said.

The flare-up is the latest round in three years of fighting between the airport and TAC Air over the relatively new aviation center that generally services smaller private planes.

In mid-2010, airport officials unveiled plans to build up to $10 million in new facilities for corporate tenants and personal aircraft. State grants are paying for about 90 percent of the cost of the facilities while the airport covers the remainder, officials have said.

Airport officials said the new aviation center was needed because of complaints about TAC Air.

TAC Air has said that the airport is trying to shut down its business in Chattanooga and using taxpayer money to do so.

The new facility also has been a money loser to date. According to the airport, projected losses this year will put the total amount of red ink at an estimated $1.31 million.

Airport officials said it takes time for a startup operation to become fiscally viable and that it is on track to become so.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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