Airport Annual Report: Record-Breaking Passenger Numbers & Economic Impact - TribPapers

Airport Annual Report: Record-Breaking Passenger Numbers & Economic Impact

A collage of celebrations from the Asheville Regional Airport's annual report.

Asheville – In 2022, 1,838,793 passengers either boarded or deplaned from the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL). This is a 29% increase over the passenger count from 2021 and is the highest in the airport’s history. The airport has, however, seen higher growth in past years, especially in 2021, as the airport recovered after losing 56% of its passengers during the pandemic. This made AVL the third busiest airport in the state for the first time, and it ranked 104th out of 478 on the FAA’s annual list of busiest commercial service airports in the country.

Then, in May, the airport announced even higher numbers for the first quarter of FY2023. Year-over-year, passenger counts increased 29%, with each month’s totals setting record highs.

While the airport added only seven new full-time positions, an analysis by the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation credited AVL with $2.26 billion in direct, indirect, and induced economic impact. This included support for 10,655 jobs, $700 million in personal income, and $118 million in tax revenue.

Airlines and Route Expansion

AVL is serviced by six commercial airlines. Major carriers American Airlines, Delta, and United provide nonstop flights to select regional hubs. Allegiant flies to and from about 20 destinations, but only on certain days of the week, and many flights are only seasonal. JetBlue flies only to Boston seasonally, and Sun Country Airlines flies only to Minneapolis-St. Paul seasonally.

In 2022, American Airlines added nonstop flights to Miami and Austin and extended seasonal service to Philadelphia. Delta didn’t add any new destinations, but it extended service by flying larger planes to Minneapolis-St. Paul and now making six daily flights to Atlanta and three daily flights to New York LaGuardia. JetBlue began servicing AVL in 2022.

Terminal Expansion Project and Parking Improvements

Groundwork for the long-advertised airport expansion began last year. It was made possible in part with $10 million from the federal Airport Improvement Program and $15 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—Airport Terminals Program. Also, for the first time in its history, the airport floated bonds.

What is referred to as the terminal expansion project is expected to take four years. It involves not only more than doubling the size of the sole existing terminal but also building a new air traffic control tower. In 2022, the design phase for the tower was completed, and a staging area was created with temporary offices and room to park construction equipment. More substantially, an electrical vault that will handle all the lighting for the expanded airport was completed, and work on a central energy plant commenced.

The project also calls for adding a lot of parking spaces. Parking improvements completed in 2022 included the creation of a cell phone lot that allows people picking up passengers to park for free and not clog the loading zone until their passenger calls. The shuttle lot grew by 70 spaces, and a temporary remote overflow lot, also serviced by the airport shuttle, was opened. Now, plans for another remote parking area are in the works. More parking space for commercial and military aircraft was constructed as well.

Diversification Efforts: Hotel and Conference Center

The airport also entered into a long-term lease agreement with DreamCatcher Hotels for the construction of an upscale hotel and conference center on the golf course, which the airport owns. The hotel will serve as an anchor for additional development, which is part of the airport’s plan to diversify its revenue streams with businesses not directly related to aviation.

Financial Overview and Community Engagement

For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2022, airport assets exceeded liabilities by $236,575,780, representing a $30.6 million year-over-year increase and a $67.5 million increase over the last two years. Sources of revenue came mostly from parking (39%), car rentals (23%), and airlines (21%). Other revenues came from on-location businesses servicing airline travel, non-commercial aviation, and concessionaires. Funds from the federal government made up only 2% of revenues.

Activities promoted as giving back to the community included hosting a 5K race that raised $20,000 for local aviation education. The airport expanded its ambassador programs, which now include 21 comfort canine teams, navigator positions staffed by people with autism, and 15 customer service volunteers. The airport provided gallery space for two art exhibits, and it gave local musicians, including school choirs, an opportunity to entertain. The airport also supported the Blue Ridge Honor Flight program in flying veterans to the WWII, Korea, and Vietnam war memorials, complete with a warm and cheering hero’s welcome home.

Airport employees participated in a lot of charitable team activities as well. These included giving blood in two drives, donating over $7,000 to charity through AVL Gives, and participating in other events like Eliada Home’s toy drive.