Chattanooga Airport shuttle coming for passengers

With Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport's passenger boardings hitting a new high last year, a ground shuttle service from its most remote parking lot to the terminal is slated to start in May.

Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, said he believes it's the first time ever the airport has run such a regular shuttle for travelers.

"We've never gotten to the point where we've had to shuttle customers," he said.

Last year, the airport added about 230 parking spaces in a new overflow parking lot on Airport Road across from the Greyhound bus station. Employees are now parking in the lot, but air passengers are expected to begin using the parking spaces this spring when travel swells at Lovell Field, Hart said.

Starting May 1, Republic Parking will kick off the free shuttle service after airport officials approved a three-year contract with the company.

April Cameron, the airport's vice president of finance and administration, said last week that the Airport Authority will pay Republic $177,176 in the next year, $177,438 the following year and $180,318 in the third year of the contract for the shuttle service.

She said three companies submitted proposals, but the Republic price is 38 percent lower than at other airports surveyed.

"Based on pricing and the experience they provide, we believe Republic will bring great benefit to airport tenants and customers," Cameron said.

Airport Authority member Farzana Khaleel said the Republic proposal seemed like the best in terms of pricing. But she said she didn't understand why the third year jumped so much.

Cameron said she believed the hike had to do with Republic salaries for the shuttle drivers.

She said the shuttle contract is based on an hourly rate for 22 hours per day, though it can go to 24 hours if needed.

"They're required to stay one hour after the last arriving flight, no matter when that is," Cameron said, adding the shuttle is scheduled to start at 3 a.m. every morning.

Each shuttle will have video surveillance to monitor driver activity and enhance customer safety, she said.

Hart said the shuttle will run in a continuous loop between the overflow lot and the terminal.

He said airport officials knew it was a matter of time before the lot would come into use by air travelers based on growing traffic.

In January, the airport reported passenger boardings climbed 16.3 percent over the same month a year ago to 34,060, according to Lovell Field. Much of that increase was driven by new United Airlines service to the New York City area and into Chicago.

Also, American Eagle showed an 11.8 percent spike in passenger boardings last month compared to January 2016.

Last year, total airport boardings soared nearly 7 percent over 2015 to 419,059 passengers and set an annual record.