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Local air traffic picking up

With Chattanooga’s business community really beginning to take off, the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport is adding another service provider to help those using the airport for non-commercial corporate travel.

The FBO, which will open sometime in August, will be managed by a third party but is owned by the airport.

“Here over the last several years this was something we repeatedly got requests for because people want competition in pricing and service options,” said airport director of marketing and communication Christina Siebold.

FBOs not only provide fuel for corporate crafts, but also for commercial ones.

“I think a huge goal of ours in developing the FBO was to provide competition in fueling prices,” said Siebold. “We’ve already heard from our local general aviation users that they’ve seen a reduction of 50 to 75 cents a gallon in fuel cost out here and our FBO hasn’t pumped the first gallon of fuel yet, so we’re very excited about that opportunity.”

She said they are also in talks with cargo carriers who use the airport about what they need and how the airport can better serve them. Studies to assess commercial passenger needs, the third and final component of the airport’s demographic and one that accounts for 75 percent of its revenue, are routine, she said.

“We’re preparing for future growth and we know as we see growth in the business community here in Chattanooga we will see growth in each of these areas,” Siebold said. “Obviously with growth in the auto market here in Chattanooga and amazon.com, there are a lot of opportunities.”

She said traffic at the airport is already “up for the year pretty significantly.” But traffic is not the only determining factor in whether more destinations and airlines are added.

“It’s really a matter of looking at what your community wants and looking at the airlines … and what makes sense for the airlines,” said Siebold. “You really have to pitch to airlines that this new route we want to introduce will make them money.”

The recent addition of Detroit as a destination followed this model, which also considers how many people will likely use the destination to connect to other places otherwise unreachable from the point of origin. Surveys are routinely conducted to help gather such information. A recently closed survey could give airport authorities more destinations and airlines to consider based on its results, which should be tabulated within 60 days, Siebold said.

“We want to make sure everybody is taken care of,” she said. “Our goal is to always make sure we’re meeting the demands of the local community and providing services.”

FAA shutdown not shutting down local airport operations

That the Federal Aviation Administration has been temporarily shut down due to Congress’ inability to come to an agreement on a funding extension will not affect the Chattanooga Airport’s ability to continue providing services, said airport director of marketing and communication Christina Siebold.

“Airports across the country have their federal funding frozen right now. That doesn’t affect us as much in Chattanooga,” she said. “The only projects we’re slated to use federal funding on is the purchase of property. Ordinarily we have construction going on.”

The airport was in talks about purchasing several pieces of property located in the vicinity of its runways, what is known as the runway protection zone, following the closure of the businesses which were located there, she said.

“It’s not mandatory but it’s desirable by the FAA that you retain control of that property so you don’t have somebody building a high-rise or gas station, something that’s incompatible,” she explained.

“That does impact our ability to continue to act on our strategic plan for the airport,” she said of the federal fund freeze. “I think it’s important to talk to elected officials about aviation. Aviation affects every part of our society.”

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