This article was originally published on timesfreepress.com.
Chattanooga Airport is seeing more weekend leisure travelers, helping to fuel higher passenger boardings through May and prompting predictions of another record year, officials said Monday.
Boardings were 13.8% higher last month than a year ago, and about the same percent gain for all of 2019 so far, the airport reported.
While Lovell Field traffic is typically heavily driven by business travel during the week, more people are flying for pleasure over the weekends, said Terry Hart, the airport’s president.
“They want the experience,” he said at a meeting of the Airport Authority, adding that more younger people are flying.
While still early in the year, Hart said he’s predicting an annual gain of 10 percent in boardings. That would be above a record year in 2018 and put boardings at about 550,000 for all of 2019, he said.
Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority chairman, said more area air travelers are “putting Chattanooga first” and using Lovell Field than other airports in the region to fly.
“Growth continues to be extraordinary,” he said.
Hart also cited air fares in Chattanooga, calling them competitive with other nearby airports.
Three of the four air carriers serving Lovell Field have shown passenger increases for the year so far, figures show, with Allegiant Air down less than 1 percent.
Delta Air Lines, the market leader, posted an increase of 17.2% in May over a year ago.
Hart said airlines grew the number of seats offered at the airport late last year. He expects monthly comparisons to narrow as the year proceeds.
Chattanooga Airport officials have seen five consecutive record years of boardings, with 2019 topping the half-million mark for the first time ever at 504,298 passengers. A strong local economy along with more destinations, such as nonstops to New York City and Philadelphia, are helping to spur traffic, officials said.
In other business:
» The Airport Authority agreed to outsource janitorial service to Maidpro, which had been handing weekends at the terminal. Hart said the aim wasn’t to save the airport money, though it’s expected to do so. He said the airport has had troubling staffing its janitorial crew.
Vice Chairman Jim Hall voted no, expressing concerns about how those hired by the company will find insurance and other benefits currently offered by the airport.
» John Naylor, the airport’s vice president of planning and development, is retiring after 12 years. He previously retired after a long career with the Federal Aviation Administration.
» Hart earlier this month was honored as the 2019 Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year. Hart was the 33rd annual winner of the award given by a collection of Chattanooga area business groups.
Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.