[In response to the letter, “Urge Change in Airport Parking Choices,” June 13, Xpress:] The airport is growing quickly and in big leaps. We have experienced four consecutive years of record growth, and recently, we were designated as the second-fastest growing small hub airport in America. So first and foremost, I would like to thank our region’s travelers for choosing to “fly local.”
With growth comes some “growing pains.” One such area has been in the parking options available at the airport. The airport has been constrained in our parking lots for several years, and in response, the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority Board accelerated a plan to construct a five-level parking garage.
The new garage added approximately 400 parking spaces for public use and allowed us to close a portion of our overflow lot at the southernmost end of our parking area — an area that was the cause of the majority of our passenger experience complaints for several years.
Specifically, for several years, we heard consistent complaints from travelers about the overflow lot, due to its location “down the hill” with no shuttle service. Travelers were dissatisfied with the uphill, uncovered walk to the terminal. They also did not like arriving at night and walking that distance to their vehicles.
We only utilized that overflow lot for a few years as we planned for a renewed parking program that would achieve several objectives:
• Increase the available parking spaces at the airport to accommodate growth now and into the future.
• Preserve choice for passengers.
• Ensure that parking options are easy, convenient and that we have a covered, lighted option to better meet the needs of travelers.
Our new parking program now has three tiers of options rather than two. We have preserved nearly all of the long-term parking spaces (approximately 700) and grown our overall capacity by 400 spaces (a total of 1,900 public spaces are being offered). And, we have eliminated the source of most of our parking complaints by decommissioning the overflow lot.
It is important to note that the overflow lot was never operated and maintained as a regularly opened parking lot. It has only been in frequent use in recent years, as we have worked to build additional parking options. This area has been slated for development, which is part of the airport’s future plan.
What many don’t realize is that airports are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate self-sufficiently. In other words, we must operate as a business. The airport does not receive any tax funding. Construction or operation of parking facilities are not eligible for FAA grant funding, so airports are responsible for funding construction of parking facilities. So, our business plan to operate three differently priced parking options is what was needed to move forward with the large capital expense of constructing the garage. Also, by designating the former overflow lot as an area for development, we have the potential to implement a diversified revenue-generator for the airport to support operations. Again, this is part of the airport’s master plan to respond to growth, market conditions and the requirement to operate self-sufficiently.
We are listening to feedback — both positive and negative — about the new parking program. In response, some changes are coming that we hope will help enhance the positive passenger experience at AVL. We will be installing an automated car counting system that will communicate the number of available parking spaces available in our lots at any given time. In addition, we also are improving our signage based upon customer feedback to help passengers better understand their options.
The airport board and management team are committed to managing the exciting growth as responsibly and efficiently as possible. We appreciate feedback, and again, I thank our community for using their local airport.
— Lew S. Bleiweis
Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority