published Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Chattanooga Airport boardings off; weather cited

Kelly Langevin, middle, and her co-worker Lee Escobar check in for a flight to Canada while at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.
Kelly Langevin, middle, and her co-worker Lee Escobar check in for a flight to Canada while at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Chattanooga Airport officials on Monday worried that persistent rains are hurting passenger boardings, and there are concerns another storm cloud may be brewing over future nonstop flights between the city and Washington, D.C.

For the first half of 2013 boardings fell by 6.6 percent to 145,372 passengers, figures show.

"A lot of it is driven by weather," said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive. "It has been a challenging six to eight months with the weather in the Southeast."

Hart said he's not worried about canceled and late flights in Chattanooga as much as he is at hub airports in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.

Airport authority member Jim Hall said he landed in Chattanooga at 2 a.m. Saturday after a delay.

"What happens in Atlanta impacts us," he said.

What happens with the merger between American Airlines and US Airways also could hurt air service in Chattanooga.

Hart said there are fears the combined new airline, if the merger is approved, could be forced to give up landing slots at Reagan National International Airport in Washington, D.C. Chattanooga has a nonstop to Reagan National on a US Airways affiliate.

Hart said competitor JetBlue is expected to ask that the merged new carrier give up some of its slots. If that happens, smaller airports such as Chattanooga could lose service as JetBlue isn't likely to run flights between the cities, Hart said.

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department sued to halt what would be the largest airline union in U.S. history.

The Justice Department joined six states, including Tennessee, and the District of Columbia in a lawsuit to block the proposed merger.

"Studies show that Tennessee's four major airports in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga will experience fewer flights to certain destinations and travelers will pay more for remaining flights," Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper said in a statement last week.

A merger would create the world's largest airline. The deal would put 70 percent of the U.S. market in the hands of four major carriers -- United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines.

Hart said that consolidation of some of airlines already, such as Delta's combination with Northwest Airlines, and United's marriage with Continental Airlines, has added much-needed stability in the industry. American Eagle along with US Airways affiliates already service Chattanooga.

But Hart said he has concerns about the potential for the newly combined carrier having to give up landing slots at Reagan National.

"It will be us [smaller airports] that will be affected," he said.

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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