LOVELL FIELD IN THE 1970s AND 1980s
Part four of the history of airline service at Chattanooga covers the turbulent 1970s, the early years of airline deregulation and the emergence of codesharing commuter carriers operating flights for the major airlines.
1970s curbside view of Lovell Field courtesy of Bill Peterson.
Another view taken the same day as the previous photo, courtesy of Bill Peterson.
The observation deck was a popular spot for relaxing and plane watching. The 1955 terminal addition can be seen at left and the 1964 addition is seen at far right in this 1970s photo courtesy of Bill Peterson.
Volunteer and Aerie were two commuter airlines that served Chattanooga during the early to mid 1970s. Volunteer Airlines flew into CHA during 1971 and 1972. The October 15, 1971 Official Airline Guide shows them operating Britten Norman Islanders on a Chattanooga - Nashville - Huntsville - Birmingham route as well as a Chattanooga - Nashville - Clarksville route. Aerie served CHA from 1973 through 1977 with Cessna 402s on Chattanooga nonstops to Nashville with flights continuing on to Louisville. Images courtesy of Don Henchel and Edwin Bayliss.
Flood waters from South Chickamauga Creek spilled over the levees and inundated the airport in March 1973 causing several million dollars in damage.
Delta DC-9 N3323L struck landing lights and crashed short of the runway while attempting to land in heavy wind and rain on November 27, 1973. There were luckily no fatalities. The full NTSB accident report can be found HERE.
Nelson Airlines provided commuter service between Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Tri-Cities during 1976 and 1977 using Cessna 402s. Timetable from the collection of Don Henchel via TimetableImages.com.
These three timetables were picked up in early 1977 by my dad, a retired Delta pilot, while on a layover at Chattanooga. Delta was operating 8 nonstops a day to Atlanta, 3 to Knoxville, and 3 to Lexington, KY with direct flights to Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit. United was operating 2 daily nonstops to Knoxville with direct service to Washington, DC, Pittsburgh and New York, and a single nonstop to Memphis, continuing on to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Southern offered 1 nonstop to Greenville / Spartanburg, 1 nonstop to Knoxville and 2 flights a day to and from Memphis with direct service to St. Louis, Chicago, New Orleans and others.
The 1978 edition of Airport Activity Statistics shows that Delta boarded more passengers at Chattanooga than all other airlines combined, over a quarter of a million passengers, a 73% share of the market.
This table, also from the 1978 Airport Activity Statistics shows the wide range and frequency of aircraft types flown from CHA that year, from the ubiquitous DC-9s and 727s to larger DC-8s used on the occasional charter flights.
The passage of the Airline Deregulation Act on October 24, 1978 prompted airlines to abandoned short-haul routes to small and medium sized cities in favor of more lucrative markets. Eastern and United both left Chattanooga in early 1979, prompting public outcry in the city.
The departure of two major airlines from Chattanooga left Delta with a near monopoly, as seen in this pie chart. Overall traffic was down nearly 25% from just two years earlier.
Atlanta Express was one of several commuter airlines that began service on Eastern's former Chattanooga - Charlotte route. Their attempt to fill Eastern's shoes was short-lived and ended after a few months.
Sunbird Airlines also operated commuter flights between Chattanooga and Charlotte in the early 1980s. Tennessee Airways served CHA from Charlotte and various points in Tennessee for nearly a decade, from 1978 to 1987.
Piedmont Airlines inaugurated Chattanooga - Charlotte service in 1983 with two daily round trips using 737s and 727s.
The mid 1980s saw the emergence of "codeshare" commuter carriers that fed traffic into hubs of major airlines. This route map is taken from Delta's December 15, 1985 timetable when Comair was flying two daily departures to Cincinnati and one flight to Knoxville, continuing onto Cincinnati as The Delta Connection. All flights were operated with 18-seat Swearingen Metroliners.
Eastern Metro Express route map effective January 1, 1986 shows nonstop service between CHA and Atlanta. The June 1, 1986 Official Airline Guide lists 8 flights a day on the route using Dash 8 and Jetstream 31 turboprops.
As the 1980s progressed, major airlines began to return to Chattanooga as they revamped their route networks from point-to-point flights to the connecting hub-and-spoke model perfected by Delta. By the end of the 1980s, five major airlines and three commuter airlines were serving Chattanooga: American, Delta, Comair (flying as Delta Connection), Eastern Metro Express, Northwest Airlines (which took over Republic Airlines in 1986), United, United Express, USAir (which bought Piedmont Airlines in 1989), and USAir Express.