published Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Airport authority working to encourage fliers to depart from Chattanooga

The Chattanooga Airport terminal.
The Chattanooga Airport terminal.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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THE NUMBERS

Passenger traffic at Chattanooga Airport through May and change from a year ago:

* Pinnacle (Delta): 10,457, up 143.4%

* US Air Express (PSA): 16,019, up 15%

* US Air Express (Piedmont: 7,199, up 148.8%

* Express Jet (Delta): 51,851, down 13.4%

* US Air Express (Wisconsin): 5,649, down 61.8%

* American Eagle: 13,542, down 7.8%

* Allegiant Air: 13,298, down 6.2%

* Charters: 336, down 53%

* Total: 118,351, down 6.9%

Source: Chattanooga 2012 307,162

Number of boardings at Chattanooga airport in last 10 years.

2011: 304,016

2010: 291,388

2009: 310,414

2008: 301,338

2007: 307,500

2006: 254,959

2005: 258,745

2004: 244,470

2003: 237,221

Source: Chattanooga AirportAirport

Christie Gleeson was seeing off her husband last week as he was traveling to Los Angeles, but not from Chattanooga Airport.

He was riding a Groome Transportation shuttle van from East Ridge to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, saving about $300 on his air fare compared to what he would have paid from Lovell Field, she said.

"It's not always that much difference," the woman said about the ticket price. "We fly from Chattanooga. It's much more convenient."

Passenger boardings at Chattanooga Airport are off about 7 percent through May versus last year, and officials said they want to continue to attack the nagging problem of "leakage" -- local air travelers who go to other airports to fly.

"We need to be on top of making sure we're doing everything we can to market this airport," said Jim Hall, the Airport Authority's vice chairman.

A study two years ago showed that nearly two of every three travelers from metro Chattanooga fly from other cities. Atlanta's airport, typically the nation's busiest, alone captured 53 percent of air travelers from the Chattanooga area, the study showed.

Targeting Georgia

Among ideas floated last week by Chattanooga Airport officials was trying to woo more North Georgia travelers, even reaching into the northern Atlanta suburbs.

Chattanooga Airport chief Terry Hart cited an April Atlanta Journal-Constitution column that suggested that driving to Lovell Field to fly can save money on some air fares.

The newspaper cited savings of $186 off a round-trip ticket to London if flying from Chattanooga rather than Atlanta on some flights this summer. Savings to Madrid were $190 per ticket on certain flights, the column said.

"We continue to encourage regional travelers to check fares from Chattanooga before booking their next trip," Hart said.

But, Hall said, while air cargo is up in Chattanooga and the airport has a pair of general aviation centers serving those users, he's concerned about commercial passenger boardings.

"We need to make them aware of Chattanooga and the economy of flying out of the airport," he said.

Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority's chairman, said plans are to "go after the leak" and do more marketing in North Georgia.

"We want to be their regional airport," he said.

Hall mentioned putting money into marketing the updated Chattanooga Airport passenger terminal when that $7.2 million in work is done early next year.

He told fellow Authority member Farzana Mitchell, a top official for Chattanooga-based shopping center developer CBL & Associates Properties Inc., that "You wouldn't open a new mall and not tell them about it."

Christina Siebold, director of marketing and communications at the airport, last week suggested to the Authority a company to help get out Lovell Field's message. The airport panel agreed to hire Two by Four, a Chicago firm with an office in Chattanooga. The price tag was $125,000 in the next year, including buying media space.

Authority member Mike Mallen said the airport has a "very recognized and good brand" and Two by Four will build off it.

Tom Snow, another member, noted how much easier it is for Chattanooga Airport users to go through the security checkpoint than in Atlanta's airport. He also cited Lovell Field's nonstop flights.

The new American

Siebold said the airport continues to talk with airlines about keeping and growing service at Lovell Field, including with the carrier formed by the combining of American Airlines and US Airways. She said the airport has a goal of retaining service into Reagan National Airport to Washington, D.C., now offered by US Airways, in the wake of the merger.

"We've had multiple meetings with the new American Airlines," Siebold said. "We want to make sure they know how our community is growing and whether there is an opportunity for both of us to grow," she said.

Hart said one reason traffic is down from Chattanooga is new federal aviation rules regarding the time fliers can be forced to sit aboard aircraft waiting to take off. Airlines are quicker to cancel flights rather than risk fines, he said.

Hart said that when a hub airport is impacted, "that will trickle down to our boarding numbers."

Nationally, air traffic is up just 0.2 percent in the first two months of the year, the latest figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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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