Letter To The Community: Asheville Airport's Lew Bleiweis - TribPapers

Letter To The Community: Asheville Airport’s Lew Bleiweis

Asheville – As we start to welcome summer guests, I’d like to remind you of Asheville Regional Airport’s evolution since opening 63 years ago. From humble beginnings in 1961, we have become the third busiest airport in North Carolina, now serving 27 nonstop destinations through six airlines for both locals and visitors alike.

To put our recent growth in perspective, in 2023, we were in the top 5 fastest growing airports in the US with a record-breaking 2.2 million passengers. It took us 57 years to get to a million passengers a year, but only five years to more than double that number. This is due in large part to many of you who continue to fly from AVL, utilizing the great flight schedules available right here at home.

There is much to be proud of, but I continually acknowledge that these accomplishments have also come with growing pains. The last few summers at AVL have been our busiest ever and our 63-year-old airport has reached its capacity. The new passenger terminal is needed, and we are building this complex project as quickly as possible. In fact, we began the initial planning more than five years ago, followed by about three years of design and engineering. Building a new airport terminal is a long process, and it is exciting to finally be in the construction phase.

We are calling our historic infrastructure project AVL Forward, which will result in a new terminal, 150% larger than the current airport. We will grow from 7 gates to 12 gates. Our new terminal will have gate hold rooms large enough to accommodate more passengers at one time, as newer airplanes visiting AVL hold more seats than the ones we welcomed just a few years ago. The ticket lobby, grand lobby, TSA checkpoint and baggage claim will all be more spacious. There will be more of everything: more boarding bridges, more concession options, more bathrooms, greater accessibility for our guests with special needs, and even relief areas for our four-legged passengers.

The first phase of this project, the new north concourse, will be ready by Summer of 2025, and we know that can’t come fast enough for our community and our visitors. In the meantime, we must operate for one more summer in our temporary gate areas. We are continually working to provide ways to make your experience as smooth as possible. We also ask you to make a plan before you come to the airport.

Arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to your flight’s boarding time. Getting to AVL with enough time is essential.

Are you planning on parking at the airport? If so, decide which of our five parking lots work best for you (including our newest 600-space Shuttle Lot South). We now update our parking lot capacity in real time on our website homepage at www.flyavl.com. If parking lots are at capacity in the days prior to your departure, we will open overflow lots. However, you may also choose to make plans with friends or family to drop you off or explore other ground transportation options that we have listed on our website.

The day of your flight, make sure you are checking in with your airline to ensure your flight is on time and give yourself plenty of time to arrive, check bags, and go through TSA screening before going to your gate. Remember, most airlines close their doors to boarding passengers fifteen minutes before departure and passengers are not allowed to board once doors close.

We’re working to streamline our airline check-in area and have staff and volunteers working during peak times to assist you. TSA PreCheck is a program that can greatly reduce your wait time in security lines. Consider this program if you qualify and travel frequently. The dedicated TSA team at AVL works to make screening as efficient as possible during peak times, but safety is always the number one priority. Ensure that you don’t experience unnecessary delays in the screening process. Check www.tsa.gov for a list of items that can be in checked baggage, but not carry-on bags, and a list of prohibited items.

Growth at the airport impacts airlines, restaurants, and rental car providers, each with their own responsibilities. While passengers may hold the airport responsible for any service issues, tenant organizations manage their own operations independently. Daily communication ensures that disruptions are addressed and improvements implemented, advocating for passenger support and enhancements within the airport’s control. The community’s support as Asheville Regional Airport transforms into a world-class terminal is appreciated, urging travelers to pack patience and embrace the journey toward progress.