Business reportedly leaving Chattanooga airport due to taxpayer-funded competition

Photo by Chris Butler and Misty Hughes McKeithen

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

CHATTANOOGA — All the scuttlebutt in Chattanooga about TAC Air leaving the city three years after the Airport Authority began using taxpayer money to compete against them is reportedly accurate, according to Friday’s Times Free Press.

Not only that, the Airport Authority is in talks with TAC Air to acquire the company’s hangar and office space for its own uses, the paper reports.

What that means for taxpayers, and how much extra they will have to fork over to accommodate this reported deal, is currently unknown.

Representatives from neither TAC Air nor the Airport Authority returned Tennessee Watchdog’s messages sent via phone and e-mail before Friday’s publication time.

TAC AIR: The company may be leaving Chattanooga, as a report in the city’s Times Free Press suggests.

The agreement, according to the Times Free Press, is pending, and neither side has finalized a deal.

“There has been nothing finalized and we continue to be in discussions with TAC Air so at this point it would be inappropriate to address this issue,” Airport Authority spokesman Albert Waterhouse told the paper.

TAC Air spokesman Dave Edwards, meanwhile, would not discuss with the paper whether TAC Air employees know about the pending agreement.

As previously reported, the airport’s finance committee reportedly met in closed session in December, likely to discuss the TAC Air matter.

As Tennessee Watchdog first reported in 2010, the Airport Authority uses taxpayer money to compete against TAC Air, which is privately run.

TAC Air officials said Chattanooga’s economy can sustain only one fixed base of operations — theirs — even though they once had privately-operated competition.

In October, an FAA administrator announced he wanted to dismiss a formal complaint TAC Air made that the airport authority unfairly used taxpayer money to compete against it.

The airport authority used $4 million in Tennessee Department of Transportation grants to establish the new FBO.

Authority officials confirmed to Tennessee Watchdog in 2012 they had lost at least $300,000 on the venture. TAC Air said its follow-up examination of public records showed the authority later lost $1.2 million. The Times Free Press reports the taxpayer-funded FBO has now lost $1.31 million.

James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, sent a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, last year asking that he and members of his administration scrutinize the matter. Coyne said such activity would discourage private investors away from the airport and create additional burdens for taxpayers.

NATA did not return Tennessee Watchdog’s request for comment Friday.

The Chattanooga Airport’s website, meanwhile, has announced a special meeting of the board of commissioners at 2 p.m. Wednesday to begin the process of seeking bonds to acquire unspecified property for the airport.

Tennessee Watchdog was unable to confirm if the property in question is related in any way to TAC Air’s Chattanooga operations.

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