The airport has cut down a large swath of trees off U.S. 280 to the southwest of the airport. The airport is embarking on a major expansion that will include a new terminal, air traffic control tower, parking lot and more. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Like most Americans, I love flying.

OK, OK. Pull yourself up off the floor and stifle the guffaws.

I don’t think anyone actually enjoys flying, except maybe Superman.

Traveling? Oh yeah! Bring it on. We love adventure — seeing new cities, dipping a toe in the chilly Merced River after a long day of hiking in Yosemite, gawking at a bull moose by a glacial lake at the base of Grand Teton.

The actual act of flying?

It’s like being one of 12 hotdogs crammed into a tube, but with less comfortable seating. 

My most recent flying experience was actually a pretty good one. I helped my youngest son move to Dallas for a job, so we drove his car over in shifts and then I flew back out of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.

That airport is a biggun’, but it’s pretty easy to navigate, once you realize your gate has been changed, and that the sign for Gate 21 “parking” actually means it’s the gate. Yep, three tries and we were there.

Thank God for the U-turn lane.

The flight was packed, and the plane had six seats across all the way down. I gotta think many of these folks were tourists, so congratulations, Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority on a successful Dallas campaign! (I’m sure I’m going to be finding out very soon if they’ve actually targeted Dallas).

The seat was tight (surely not because I’m overweight), and for the life of me I cannot figure out how to recline the damn things, but we got in ahead of schedule. After the concrete hellscape that is metro Dallas, it was great to see the mountains again and experience a sub-95-degree air temperature.

Plywood abounds

But the Asheville airport…sweet mother of aviation, it looks horrible.

To be more accurate, the outside looks terrible, with a janky plywood covered walkway leading to the gates off the tarmac. And driving around the outside, it’s hard to miss the acres upon acres of trees that have been mowed down for some kind of upcoming construction project.

Clearly, the airport is going through some personal changes, which is fine. This is Asheville, after all.

This disarray is not lost on the airport itself.

“If you have traveled recently, you have most likely experienced first-hand the growing pains occurring at AVL,” Asheville Regional Airport President & CEO Lew Bleiweis said in a recent “special message” to the community.

“We’ve been growing significantly for the past five years, and 2022 was a record year of passenger utilization with 1.8 million passengers flying to or from AVL,” Bleiweis said. “And we’re exceeding month-over-month numbers so far in 2023 — by a lot. We are currently ahead of 2022 by an astounding 25%.”

Asheville Regional Airport has embarked on a $400 million expansion project that includes a new terminal and air traffic control tower, as well as more parking. As part of that, the airport is using a temporary area for gates 1-3 in a modular building adjacent to the south concourse. Construction will continue for several years. // Photo provided by Asheville Regional Airport

I’m glad I could do my part in contributing to those numbers. 

Asheville Regional is going through a huge expansion  — “the biggest construction project in the history of AVL,” which will include a new airport terminal and a new air traffic control tower. The tower, by the way, is being constructed on the west side of the airport on a site that’s not visible from I-26 or Airport Road.

All this expansion and construction is going to disrupt the flow of the airport, including parking, for a good long time. The airport opened at its current location in 1961.

Bleiweis says he’s been hearing questions such as, “Why hasn’t the airport built a second garage?” or “Why is the airport bringing more and more flights when parking lots are filling?”

He said they have a second parking garage in their master plan, “but building a garage means displacing nearly 400 spaces near the terminal during construction. So, we need alternative parking options first.”

The airport began addressing this in 2020 by building the shuttle lot across Airport Road, and then a temporary overflow lot with about 200 spaces. Right now a 600-plus space remote shuttle lot is under construction, and the trees are a fading memory.

“Design, engineering, financing and construction take significant time in the ‘airport world,’ where we have to comply with far more regulations than many other types of organizations,” Bleiweis said. 

He also said airlines are having success in our area, so they’re continuing to grow and offer more flights. I’ll be a beneficiary of this, as AVL has direct flights to and from Dallas, so I really can’t complain here.

“AVL is a public airport, and we can’t restrict the airlines from growing their service if our airfield can manage the flights (which it can) — nor do we want to,” Bleiweis said, adding that they’re grateful airlines are investing here. “So, like many other airports that outgrow their facilities, we are expanding. But unlike many other airports, our growth continues to come in huge leaps, so the ability to quickly keep up with the needed infrastructure expansion is challenging.”

The airport has been working on the design and financing of the new terminal for five years, and the contractor will break ground on the project in August.

“I want to be transparent – these huge construction projects can’t happen quickly, so we will experience congestion in the terminal during our busiest hours at the airport for a while,” Bleiweis said in his communication. “This is a temporary situation, and please know that great things are coming!”

A couple of things you’ll undoubtedly notice: 

The north concourse is closed — In late June, the airport permanently closed the north concourse, where gates 4-7 were located. So now all flights board to the south from the existing gate area and from an adjacent modular building. As Bleiweis says, “We still have seven gates, just like we’ve always had. They are just located differently.”

The ground transportation pick up area has moved —  It’s now located on the terminal level, Level 2, of the parking garage. All taxis and ride app pick-ups will occur in this location for about a year, Bleiweis said, while they work on phased construction. There is one exception: All handicapped accessible rides will pick up in front of the terminal at the shuttle stop area.

Asheville Regional Airport has embarked on a $400 million expansion project that includes a new terminal and air traffic control tower, as well as more parking. As part of that, the airport is using a temporary area for gates 1-3 in a modular building adjacent to the south concourse. Construction will continue for several years. // Photo provided by Asheville Regional Airport.

Airport spokeswoman Tina Kinsey told me the airport will use the current gate configuration — the existing south gates and the modular building — for two years while a new north concourse is built.

“Then we will open the new north concourse, which will have seven gates, and operate there while we close the south side and build a new south concourse,” Kinsey continued via email. “This is phased construction so we can build a completely new airport terminal while still operating.”

The airport will have a new information section on its website in early August when they break ground on the new terminal. The airport website is

A big price tag for a big project

That August groundbreaking is for the core part of the terminal construction project.

The entire project is a whopper, and the price tag — about $400 million — reflects that.

The funding breaks down like this: $300 million in financed airport revenue bonds, $81 million in federal grants and $20 million from airport funds.

“The terminal project will take approximately 3.5 years for substantial completion,” Kinsey said. “We will begin operating in the new north concourse in just two years.”

The project is expensive and extensive, including the new terminal and tower. Kinsey provided this list of what all is included:

  • Two expanded concourses, with a total of 12 gates and 12 boarding bridges (second level)
  • Larger, four-lane TSA checkpoint with room for expansion to six lanes
  • A more spacious ticket counter area, grand lobby, and baggage claim
  • Large, open concessions plaza on airside, and additional concessions space on landside
  • 150 percent-plus more space — about 275,000 square feet
  • New central energy plant
  • Passenger amenities, such as lactation suites, pet relief areas, art showcase areas (for local art), and a music performance area

About that tree removal…

On the tree removal, Kinsey said it was necessary, “so we could ready the site and build a 600-plus space parking lot” that will be ready by fall. That’s the area to the south of the Marathon gas station on U.S. 280. 

Another swath was cut down and is very visible from I-26.

“These trees were interfering with FAA radar, which posed a potential safety issue,” Kinsey said. “Therefore, (they) had to be removed.”

Regarding the parking lot area, Kinsey said, “We will plant some new trees as we complete and landscape this project.”

With all this building, expansion and growth, I know someone is going to ask these questions: Will AVL remain a “regional airport?” Or is it eyeing a larger status?

“At this time, we will remain a regional airport,” Kinsey said.

It’s just going to look like something bigger.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at jboyle@avlwatchdog.

7 replies on “Opinion: What is going on at the airport with all the clear-cutting and construction?”

  1. One aspect I have always wondered about and not understood — why does this airport only have one runway? It just seems strange to have such a busy, bustling airport, yet only one landing strip?

  2. This just in:

    AVL ranked as fourth (4th) worse summer traveling airport in the nation.

  3. Yeah, regional airport my…whatever. Curious how Asheville’s unenlightened leadership is planning infrastructure improvements in lockstep with airport expansion. Oops. That would require leadership, vision, planning, and actual dialogue with residents by our City non-Manager.

  4. I actually love the airport as it is. Small with easy in, easy out. I guess we are all supposed to get excited about the “growth” that we moved up here to get away from. Now we can enjoy more flights over neighborhoods, lose the cool mountain vibe the airport captured while becoming the Newark (NJ) Regional Airport of the south. Yay.

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