Each year, we highlight our most recent accomplishments and activities into an annual report. 2020 was a year like no other. We began 2020 on the heels of the biggest year in the history of the airport — we served 1.6 million passengers, which was an astounding 43% increase over the previous year. And the growth continued into early 2020. We broke passenger records in January, and again in February, and were on track to have a stellar March. In January, two airlines announced significant air service additions, essentially guaranteeing an even bigger year of passenger service at AVL moving forward.
But, as the whole world learned, there are no guarantees. 2020 will forever be known as the year of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Much of our year focused on a response to the pandemic. Airports are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure — and vastly important to the movement of people, goods and services. Therefore, we had to keep the airport operating in the safest and health-focused way possible, and we proudly rose to that challenge.
Even during this overwhelmingly unprecedented time, we also stayed focused on longer-term recovery and the growth we know will return. This involved infrastructure enhancements, terminal design planning and more.
And yes, we even welcomed some new flights in 2020. Amazing.
Take a look at our highlights below. Remember: recovery is happening in the aviation industry. Our growth trajectory will return. Travel is woven into the fabric of our lives for many, many reasons, and we continue to be ready when you’re ready.
On March 13, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Life changed across the globe, almost overnight. The aviation industry was affected significantly, and air travel nearly ceased for several months. Like most of the nation’s airports, Asheville Regional Airport’s passenger utilization dropped by 97% through the month of April, an unprecedented decline.
The aviation industry responded quickly.
Airports, airlines, general aviation, concessionaires and other aviation partners began working together to implement policies and procedures to create the safest and healthiest travel journeys possible. At AVL, we immediately created a transparent web page dedicated to Covid-19 updates for the public. This soon evolved into a comprehensive campaign called #AVLTravelSmart, which included changes in the terminal, enhanced cleaning procedures, education, continually updated information based upon Centers for Disease Control guidelines, and more.
AVL received $14 million from CARES Act funding.
Critical to the airport industry’s ability to keep the national aviation infrastructure operational, airports across the country received relief funding to help them weather the storm. The funds were designated for payroll, debt service and operational needs. Of significance: no AVL employees lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and the airport was able to waive or defer rents and fees for a period of time for airlines and other tenants.
AVL employees stepped up in a big way.
Many members of our team are front-line critical infrastructure workers — such as our housekeepers, maintenance crews, operations specialists, public safety officers and guest services clerks. With solid COVID-19 planning and guidance, our employees kept the airport open, operational — and safe — for each other and the traveling public. In fact, our housekeeping team was highlighted by our local ABC affiliate, WLOS-13, as “Hometown Heroes.”
ACI Health Accreditation
AVL was the first NC airport to achieve global accreditation from Airports Council International, a testament to our commitment to do all we can to create a safe and healthy airport environment.
AVL employees found creative ways to serve others and bring some “normalcy” to the airport, even with the challenges brought by the pandemic.
Safe teamwork and togetherness.
One example of ways we worked to promote teamwork and togetherness in a time when social distancing was required is our first-ever FOD Walk. Employees from all departments met on the airfield to conduct a runway inspection for “foreign objects & debris,” A.K.A. “FOD.” This was one way we could work together, outside, appropriately distanced – and on the airfield, which was a treat for many.
Homemade hand sanitizer stands.
With the pandemic came many supply shortages. When our team learned it would take months to receive a shipment of hand sanitizer stands, they got creative. A collaborative effort between the maintenance and marketing departments resulted in custom-made stations — deployed throughout the airport for public use.
Santa was with us during the holidays.
To bring holiday cheer to travelers and employees, the team created a virtual Santa photo booth. Our “Virtual Santa” invited passers-by to take a selfie with him, encouraged them to wear their masks, and provided lots of smiles.
A focus on infrastructure enhancements was important in 2020. We know our extraordinary growth will recover, and future-focused planning and development occurred in 2020.
RUNWAY 17-35 COMMISSIONED
An exciting milestone occurred when we commissioned our new replacement runway on November 5, a project that started in 2014. While we could not hold a public event due to the pandemic, we celebrated internally with a socially-distanced ribbon-cutting on the new runway. Runway 17-35 will serve the airport and region for decades to come.
Underground utilities, many which were original to our 1961 building, were upgraded along Terminal Drive, in partnership with the City of Asheville and Metropolitan Sewer District.
GROUND TRANSPORTATION LOT UPGRADE
We reconfigured our ground transportation lot to centralize all modes of ground transportation.
SOUTH APRON EXPANSION PROJECT
An expansion of our south apron was under construction throughout 2020, which will result in much needed additional aircraft parking space, in 2021.
NEW PARKING AREAS
Prior to the pandemic, our parking areas were at capacity during peak travel times. A remote shuttle lot with 300 spaces was completed in summer 2020, and will be commissioned when needed as growth returns. The cell phone lot was relocated to this new parking area in summer 2020.
PURCHASE OF BROADMOOR GOLF LINKS
The Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority purchased Broadmoor Golf Links, the public golf course adjacent to the Runway Protection Zone on the south end of the airport. The purchase was strategic, allowing for future nonaeronautical revenue diversification, as well as upholding the FAA’s requirement that airports promote compatible land use in areas near the airport.
AVL FORWARD TERMINAL MODERNIZATION & EXPANSION PROJECT
The extraordinary growth at AVL during the past six years revealed the tangible need for a larger and modernized airport terminal — at a more accelerated pace than master planning had predicted. The first step — an 18-month architectural design process.
We began the year with a significant public input process that ultimately identified the key design goal for the expanded terminal: to design a “modern gateway humbly rooted in timeless natural beauty.”
OPERATIONAL GOALS IDENTIFIED
Important operational goals were also identified, based upon careful analysis of growth trajectories, future aircraft fleet mix at AVL, and the projected physical space needed for airport operations for the next 15-20 years:
- Expansion of the terminal from 7 gates to 12 gates, with ample room for passenger flow
- Additional aircraft parking space
- Expanded and modernized ticket lobby, TSA screening, baggage claim, concessions space
- Centralized power plant
- Flexible design, to allow for enhancements and innovations as air travel evolves
OUR KEY PARTNERS:
- Architecture Firm: Gresham Smith
- Construction Manager: Hensel Phelps
- Local contractor: Vannoy Construction
The design will be completed in 2021, with construction most likely starting in 2022.
NEW AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL TOWER
In order to prepare for the expanded airport terminal, the existing air traffic control tower will eventually need to be demolished. This means a new tower must be constructed. In 2020, the planning for this project began with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority Board | Fiscal Year 2019-2020
City of Asheville
George Erwin, Jr.
Susan Russo Klein
City of Asheville
Carl H. Ricker, Jr.
Michael Reisman, A.A.E.
DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
American Association of Airport Executives Board
John Coon, A.A.E.
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS + MAINTENANCE
North Carolina Airports Association Board
Tina Kinsey, A.A.E.
DIRECTOR OF MARKETING PR + AIR SERVICE DEVELOPMENT
Airports Council International - North America Marketing, Communications + Customer Experience Steering Committee
Samuel Sales, A.M.F.
INTERIM PUBLIC SAFETY CHIEF
Airport Master Firefighter — American Association of Airport Executives
2020 was unlike any other year in the history of aviation, with travel nearly ceasing in the month of April, followed by a slow partial recovery through the year. Though the year was tough from an air service perspective, AVL was one of the more fortunate airports in the country. Airlines maintained most routes (at lower frequencies), and even added or announced new routes during the year. Our airport’s passenger throughput, by percentage, was consistently above the national average, a positive indicator for continued recovery.
Early in the year — American announced new seasonal weekend service to Chicago and Washington, D.C., and daily service to LaGuardia (New York City). These new routes were suspended when the pandemic occurred.
Prior to the pandemic, Allegiant announced four new seasonal routes: Austin, Boston, Chicago and Houston. While start dates were delayed, all four routes were launched by late summer 2020. Allegiant also announced nonstop service to Las Vegas would start in March 2021 — the farthest west-bound nonstop destination ever served from AVL.
YEAR-END ROUTE MAP
At year-end, AVL’s route map held strong at 18 nonstop airport destinations (including two airports in Chicago), down from 22. We lost a few, gained a few — but maintained a strong complement of options for travelers, including frequent daily connections to and through major international hubs.
At June 30, 2020, the Authority’s assets exceeded liabilities by $169,081,647.
That is an increase of more than $14.2 million from 2019 and an increase of $30.6 million from 2018.