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Wednesday, 14 September 2016 14:08

Asheville Regional Airport improvements continue

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Geography and population conspire to make much of Western North Carolina a terrible place for an airport; west of Asheville, commercial airstrips are practically nonexistent.

That makes Asheville Regional Airport the airport of choice for many residents of Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties, which in turn makes the airport a crucial economic driver for not only residents leaving the area but also tourists coming to it. 

“The number of passengers per day each way from the Western North Carolina markets total approximately 700,” said Tina Kinsey, director of marketing, public relations and air service development for KAVL, as Asheville Regional is known in airline parlance. 

Overall, Asheville claims 50 percent of all airline ticket bookings in its primary market area, which includes much of WNC and includes Haywood County and points westward. 

In 2015, nearly 800,000 passengers — both inbound and outbound — used the airport at some point; nearly 93 percent of air travelers in WNC have flown from KAVL at some point, and according to passenger surveys, their preference for KAVL is strong among both business and leisure travelers.

The majority of residents who don’t fly from KAVL, Kinsey said, fly from Charlotte. Kinsey also said that aircraft at KAVL are full, and airlines continue adding flights to the single-runway airport. 

And all this despite KAVL being near the middle of a four-year, $64 million modernization project that represents the largest alterations to the airport since it was built in 1961. 

Phases one and two of the project are complete and involved the creation of a temporary runway on the west side of the airport; this temporary runway will be used until the existing runway can be removed, hopefully before the end of the year. 

That temporary runway will be used as a permanent taxiway once the new runway is ready for service, which the airport authority’s website says will occur near the end of 2017. 

The new runway won’t increase KAVL’s capacity but will make the airport safer and hopefully more efficient in handling traffic in and out. 

“We can accommodate 747s, like when President Obama came in a several years ago,” Executive Director of the Asheville Regional Airport Lew Bleiweis told the Haywood Chamber of Commerce over breakfast Sept. 8. “It’s just updating and modernizing what we already have.”

What this hopefully means for North Carolinians west of Asheville is that KAVL will continue to serve as the best-known and first-choice airport for years to come. 

“We try and market and advertise — the problem is our airplanes are 85 to 95 percent full, so when we advertise and build up ridership they get frustrated because our airplanes are full,” Bleiweis said. “So it’s a Catch-22 type situation. It’s a great problem to have, but we want to serve all of the regions that use our airport, so we’re always open to working with communities on how we can better get our word out.” 

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