This article was originally published on TimesFreePress.com.
With Chattanooga Airport passenger traffic on pace for another record year, 300 new parking spaces are opening up to help travelers who’ve been pressed at times to find a spot.
Terry Hart, the airport’s chief executive, said parking is growing by more than 20 percent to about 1,650 spaces. The $3.4 million project will add canopies over sidewalks in the parking lots to shield travelers from the elements, he said.
“That’s a huge amenity,” Hart said.
Airport Authority Vice Chairman Jim Hall said travelers prefer surface parking over a parking garage, which officials considered.
“But, at the same time, to have covered walkways in inclement weather and in the colder months it will be an asset for the customer base, which is growing,” said the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board. “It will make a real difference.”
Passenger boardings in Chattanooga continue to climb, up 13.5 percent in June over the same month a year ago, Hart said.
In the first half of 2015, boardings rose nearly 14 percent over last year with 188,100 passengers boarding flights in Chattanooga.
Last year, the airport shattered a 21-year-old record for boardings, and Lovell Field is on track to set a new mark in 2015.
Hart has cited a growing economy in the Chattanooga area along with air fares competitive with other airports, such as in Atlanta and Nashville.
“People are choosing to start their travel plans in Chattanooga,” he said.
Airport officials are seeking more service with potential nonstop flights between Chattanooga and the New York area as well as to Houston.
Hart said the airport continues to have talks with airlines over the New York area flights, but “nothing is firmed up.” Officials are looking at service into LaGuardia or JFK airports in New York, or even Newark, N.J., just outside of the Big Apple.
Hall said nonstops to Houston also are on the Chattanooga Airport’s radar screen.
“These things take time,” he said. “Airlines have restricted capacity to ensure their profits.”
Hall said that the increase in the number of passengers flying out of Chattanooga help the airport’s case for more service.
The new airport parking spaces are added to what was the intermediate parking lot. Hart said plans are to make nearly all of those slots long-term parking. He said some spaces furthermost away from the terminal will be turned into an “economy lot.”
Rates for long-term parking will stay at $9 a day, Hart said. A $6 economy lot rate has been talked about by airport officials.
The airport took down a former TAC Air hangar built in 1951 to make room for the added parking.
Airport officials in 2014 merged general aviation services when they bought out competitor TAC Air for $12.37 million. That ended four years of turbulence between the airport and TAC Air.