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Airport’s growth skyrocketing, official says
Wednesday, 01 January 2020 14:30
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An update on activities at the Asheville Regional Airport — highlighting its its status as one of the fastest-growing airports in the nation — was presented to the Council of Independent Business Owners during a Dec. 6 breakfast meeting at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

“The amount of growth we’ve had has been unbelievable. We have six airlines. We have 60 daily flights,” Matthew Burril, chair of the Greater Asheville Regional Airport board and long-time CIBO member, told the gathering.

“We still can’t figure out a way to get a Raleigh (connection), but we’re working on it.,” he added with a smiler, prompting laughter from the crowd. (Burril is president of Brickstreet Equity Management, a firm he founded in 2003.)

Meanwhile, filling in as master of ceremonies at the meeting was John Carroll, CIBO’s past president, in place of  the regular emcee, CIBO President Buzzy Cannady, who, Carroll noted, was absent because his father had died three days earlier.

Carroll, a real estate broker and educator who is a member of the North Carolina Realtor Hall of Fame, began by wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas.” 

On behalf of CIBO’s memberhip, member Mac Swicegood then stood up and returned the holiday greeting to Carroll. About 50 people attended the meeting.

In his address, Burril said he was not seeking the job, but rather had been asked to serve on the Airport Board on which “it was required to have a licensed pilot to serve on the board” — and at that time he already had clocked more than 4,000 hours of flight time as a licensed pilot. 

In 2014, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously appointed him to the board, Burril noted, and he attended his first airport board meeting as a board member in February 2015.

The airport board worked hard, he said, and in June 2017, the airport experienced its first 100,000-passenger month, with a load factor of 84 percent In the most recent data available, Burril said the airport’s load factor on a recent 153,000-passenger month was 83 percent.

“So the airlines just love Asheville” — and its airport, Burril said, in his analysis of the growth surge.

Next, Burril noted that, “for 2019, a flight operation is (defined as) a takeoff or landing.”

To that end, he said, in 2019, the airport reported about 75,000 flight operations, “averaging 209 per day.”

After a pause, Burril asserted, “For the last two years,” Asheville Regional Airport has ranked “among the fastest-growing airports in the United States.”

Rhetorically, he asked what the “reasons” would be for the skyrocketing growth.

In answering his own question, he said one reason would be an airport board that is “zealously” seeking growth.

He said the airport board coordinates well with other boards, including economic development, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and others. “With TDA money, it allows us to coordinate well in advance,” Burril said.

“So we (the airport board) are very, very much involved in the economic development piece of Buncombe County as a whole.

“The amount of money we drive through the airport is enormous — it’s in the billions” of dollars.

As for the local airport, which is located between Asheville and Hendersonville off I-26, Burril acknowledged, “It’s a small place, but it gives you first-class service. You can leave Asheville and end up in the Caribbean” without changing airplanes.

In citing yet another reason for the airport’s growth spurt, Burril said, “There’s been a change in the business model of the airlines” in recent years. “Previously, there was the hub model.” However, the hub model results “eventually” in development becoming “very, very congested in a very small area.”

As an example, he cited “what’s happened around the (nearby) Charlotte airport — there’s been so much development around it, that it makes it so hard to get in and out of it,” eventually causing some prospective customers to avoid it

“So some of the airlines started figuring that out... A city like Asheville fits” into the destinatin model that is replacing the hub model.

“We’re a destination,” Burril said, with a note of enthusiasm. “So we’re seeing some of the traffic go away from the hubs and come to places like us.” He also cited the nearby Virginia cities of Charlottesville and Richmond” as destination cities where the airports also are thriving. “So that (transition away from the hub system) has really, really changed the industry — a lot.

“So we (the airport board) adopted a different model… So that’s why we’ve been ‘thrown’ (by various airlines) these one-way routes. So that’s where all this is coming. It’s really great.

“We’ve had 45 percent growth year over the year for the past five years,” Burril pointed out.

Finally, he said, “I’ll wrap up with we’re dealing with issues — construction, etc….. We’re probably five years out” before the current building projects are finished.

In addition, Burrill noted, “We’re expanding 300 parking spots across the highway toward J&W Cafeteria….

“The terminal project —  right now we’ve got seven gateways — we’re expanding that to 12...

“The entire terminal will be completely revamped for 2026” in a $150,000 to $275,000 project.

During a brief question-and-answer session that followed, CIBO member Mac Swicegood asked Burril, “Real quick — tell us what you’re going to do with the (old control) tower.”

Burril began his answer by noting that “it was built in 1964. It’s the oldest tower in America. It will be moved. I want it to be on the west side of the runway — near Sierra Nevada (brewery). Now, our controllers are always looking into the sun,” as they are guiding planes on takeoffs and landings. “ They need to be looking east,” so they do not have to gaze into the sun.

An unidentified man asked, “How about the runway expansion?” He then triggered some laughter from CIBO members when he quipped, “Next week — or next year?”

“That’ll be finished,” Burril asserted. “We’ve (still) got 25 or 30 days of paving… That’ll probably be finished by June of next year.”

When a man asked about room for possible future growth at the airport, Burril answered, “Great question! The whole west side of the airport” is open for growth. “We’re the last flat property in western Buncombe County. There’s plenty of room for everyone.”


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