Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport reports best-ever March
Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport may be on its way to a fourth consecutive record year after passenger boardings in the first three months of 2017 surged almost 23 percent.
"I've got to call this crazy good," said Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority's chairman, at a meeting of the panel on Monday.
Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive, said March boardings alone of 40,779 hit an all-time high for the month, up nearly 28 percent from a year ago.
He credited new flights to Chicago and the New York area begun last September by United Airlines for part of the increase so far this year.
But, Hart said, taking out those United flights, boardings still climbed 11 percent in the first quarter of the year over the same period in 2016 to 109,715 passengers.
He cited competitive air fares out of Chattanooga and the region's economic growth as other factors for air traffic increases.
Hart said all the airlines at the airport posted higher boardings in March. Delta Air Lines, Lovell Field's busiest carrier, reported a 16.4 percent gain in the month. It's up 8.1 percent for the quarter, according to the airport.
Concerning the new United service, Hart said the flights to Chicago are above expectations. Load factors, the number of available airline seats filled with travelers, have risen to the low 80 percent range, he said.
While United's load factors to Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey were just in the 40 percent range in January and February, they've rebounded as the year is wearing on, the airport chief said.
April's load factor is excepted to be close to 70 percent, and May's preliminary numbers are running above the Chicago service, he said.
"New York is an important market for us," Hart said. "We need to get 70 percent consistently with them."
He said United has made air fares more competitive to other New York airports such as LaGuardia Airport.
Jacobson said he talked to a Ringgold, Ga., businessman who took his family to New York.
"He said it was so easy," he said.
Hart said if the New York service takes off, that can mean more aircraft to the Big Apple or provide Chattanooga's airport with potential new service to another market.
In the wake of the criticism United took last week over the violent removal of a passenger from a Chicago flight last week, he said Lovell Field officials held off on planned advertising.
But, Hart said, they haven't seen a change in booking habits by Chattanooga area travelers yet.
In 2016, the airport blew past its old passenger traffic mark and broke the 400,000 barrier for the first time ever. Last year, boardings climbed 6.8 percent over 2015 to come in at 419,059.