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Asheville Regional Airport breaks ground on $400 million expansion project

The Asheville Regional Airport offers nonstop trips to Minneapolis, DC, and 20+ more spots.
BPR News
The Asheville Regional Airport offers nonstop trips to Minneapolis, DC, and 20+ more spots.

It’s a summer of milestones for the Asheville Regional Airport, which is now the third busiest airport in the state. In June, a record high 200,000 monthly passengers – nearly a 25% bump from the previous year – traveled through the hub. And on August 11, the airport broke ground on a new terminal that will increase the size of the airport by 150%.

The $400 million AVL Forward project takes place over the next three years, and culminates in a brand-new concourse with five additional gates, expanded ticketing and baggage space, a new “grand lobby” and TSA checkpoint, and second-story concessions plaza. The project is supported by a combination of funding including federal and state grants, airport revenue bonds, and airport operating revenue.

At the groundbreaking event, President and CEO of the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority Lew Bleiwis spoke to the regional importance of the expansion.

“Our new airport terminal represents more than just a building; it signifies the promise of economic growth and prosperity for our community,” he said. “We are creating an environment that not only facilitates air travel but also elevates the overall airport experience, designed to leave lasting positive impressions on all who pass through our doors.”

In 2021, the Asheville airport generated $2.28 billion in economic impact and supported 10,655 jobs, according to the latest data from NCDOT’s “State of Aviation” study.

The number of jobs will almost assuredly rise as the airport grows to 280,000 square feet in size, airport spokesperson Tina Kinsey said.

The project blends natural and modern design

Capacity isn’t the only thing that will change with thenew building, developed by architectural firm Gresham Smith. The facility was designed to blend the natural beauty of the region with a modern spin, the firm’s project manager Brad Sucher explained.

One core design element includes floor-to-ceiling electrochromic glass throughout the terminal, offering expansive views of the mountain ridgeline. There will also be a 3,000 square foot “green wall” in the baggage claim area, a stage where local musicians can perform, a French Broad River-inspired panel inlaid with stones, and a second floor dedicated to restaurants and other concessions.

The construction timeline

Like most large-scale projects, construction will happen in phases. This month, the airport began phase one: demolition of the north concourse. A new north concourse with seven gates and six boarding bridges will replace the demolished section in about two years.

As that construction takes place, all core services will move to the south concourse. Once construction wraps on the north concourse, the south concourse will be demolished to make way for a new space that will include the lobby and space for concessions. The work is expected to take 1.5 years. In the meantime, the new north concourse will host the airport’s core services.

The third and final phase will take place after both concourses are complete and will include about a year of “back of the house” construction, demolition, and clean up. Officials hope to complete construction by 2026.

What about parking?

Getting in the air is only one part of the airport experience. Planning for parking is ongoing, Kinsey said. A new lot near the WNC Ag Center is under construction and should bring 600 additional spots by November. An additional parking garage is in the airport’s master plan, Kinsey said.

“We know we need one, but we haven’t designed it yet. It’s coming,” she explained.

How will travelers be impacted?

For folks wondering what to expect over the next few years, Kinsey said space will be tighter at the airport for the next few years while construction happens.

“We’ll still have seven gates like we always have. We’re operating in some modular buildings as well as our south gate area. It’s a little tight during peak hours, so you can have a lot of people in the terminal and it can get a little crowded. Not always, but during peak hours.”

Kinsey recommends arriving as early as possible, especially for the next few years.

“We really are encouraging people to arrive at least two hours before their flight boards. Not before it’s scheduled to depart; before it boards. And to bring their patience because it's going to be worth it in the end.”

The airport launched a new webpage to keep the community informed on the project.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.