Asheville Regional Airport considers new safety measures in wake of coronavirus


The Asheville Regional Airport, which has seen airport activity drop by 95 percent, is considering making several changes to address concerns about the spread of COVID-19./ photo by Jason Sandford

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The Asheville Regional Airport, which has seen airport activity fall precipitously after several consecutive years of record-setting usage, is considering making several changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

During their regular monthly meeting on May 8, held virtually via Webex, Great Asheville Regional Airport Authority officials said they’re looking at making several changes to address concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

First, they’re considering limiting entry into the airport terminal to only people traveling, or those assisting travelers. Right now, the airport is not requiring its employees, or anyone in its terminal, to wear a mask or face covering, according to airport Executive Director Lew Bleiweis said, but they are recommending it. (Meanwhile, all airlines now are requiring passengers to wear masks/face coverings when on their airplanes.) The airport does plan to keep a small supply of masks on hand for emergency situations, Bleiweis said, but added that “we don’t want to get in the business of providing a mask for everybody. It is too costly.”

Airport officials are also considering changes to the seating in the terminal for people waiting for arrivals and departures – either removing some seats to create distance, or installing barriers between seats that make each seat into a kind of little cubicle. In addition to that, they’re marking the terminal floor to show people where to stand to keep them apart while waiting in line at the security checkpoint.

Finally, airport officials are considering attaching a machine to its terminal HVAC system to pump hydrogen peroxide molecules into the air. Hydrogen peroxide foggers act as a disinfectant, Bleiweis said.

The safety considerations come as the airport remains quiet. Activity has dropped 95 percent, airport officials said. The facility’s six-year run of consecutive, record growth came to a screeching halt when the coronavirus crisis took hold in mid-March. Last year, the airport served 1.6 million passengers after having surpassed the 1-million-passengers-served mark for the first time ever in 2018. The airport has ranked as one of the fastest-growing small hub airports in the U.S. the past two years.

In March, the airport saw 173 fight cancellations. Allegiant Airlines, the airline that has powered much of the Asheville airport’s growth over the past five years, canceled 70 flights.

For all of April, a total of 2,032 people passed through the airport’s security checkpoint. Last year, Asheville Regional Airport saw an average of about 4,380 passengers every single day. There was just one day in April when more than 100 people passed through its TSA security checkpoint. So far this May, there have been three days with more than 100 passengers, officials said Friday.