Chattanooga Airport's $28 million terminal expansion could start in April, official says

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Oct. 26—Chattanooga Airport officials on Monday stayed on a path for the biggest expansion to its passenger terminal in more than 30 years should they give the project an all clear to move forward.

The work, estimated at about $28 million, could start next April if Airport Authority members give the go-ahead, said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, at a meeting of the panel.

"It's still on track," said Hart, adding that the design group is finishing up drawings and then there will be bidding and final board approval. "The group is making great progress."

Ray Boaz of DH&W Architects said the planned expansion's first phase would add 26,000 square feet and renovate up to 14,000 square feet, including building more gates to the existing five.

He said plans call for a third security checkpoint for passengers entering the concourse as well as a separate lane for pre-check fliers.

In the concourse past the checkpoint, a new restaurant, updated restrooms, a cafe and gift shop are eyed, Boaz said.

He told the Airport Authority the design would bring more light into the concourse.

"It will feel more open," Boaz said. "We'll keep the original architecture but update it."

The planned new sit-down restaurant past the security checkpoint, which will have sandwiches and drinks, will feel like an extension of the concourse, he said. Also, there will be a bar with TV, Boaz said.

Nearby restrooms will have a band of glass near the ceiling to let in light, carrying that over from the concourse, he said.

"It feels bigger than it really is," Boaz said.

Hart said the new restaurant would be built near an existing kitchen.

Panel member Dr. Paul Conn asked how concessions at the airport are doing.

Hart said that when boardings were high, revenues from restaurant operator Tailwind were as well. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit early last year and hammered boardings, its revenues plummeted as well, he said.

"They're returning at the same rate," Hart said.

The airport reported that passenger boardings in September were up 108% over the same month a year ago to 36,901.

For the first nine months of the year, boardings are up 64.1%, airport figures show.

"We continue an upward trend," Hart said. He expects boardings will end 2021 at about 375,000 passengers.

Due to the pandemic and the hit it put on air travel worldwide, Chattanooga Airport posted its worst year for passenger traffic in nearly four decades in 2020.

Passenger boardings plunged 59.3% in 2020 over the prior year to 225,289.

Last year ended six consecutive years of record boardings at the airport. In 2019, the airport had 554,050 passengers climb into commercial aircraft, up nearly 10% over 2018.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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