In 1936, the City of Asheville, the City of Hendersonville, and Henderson County together purchased 122 acres in what is today the Fletcher Industrial Park for what was then to be the “Asheville and Hendersonville Airport.” Too mountainous, the site prevented future expansion so Asheville voters approved a $1.2 million bond referendum to build a new airport at its present location.
The Asheville Regional Airport Authority currently has nearly 1,000 acres of land for aviation and non-aviation development and terminal space for appropriate commercial operations. In conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Asheville Regional Airport Authority has created a new Master Plan which lays out the direction of the airport for the next 10-15 years. Planners study aviation demand forecasts, facility requirements, and airport development alternatives. Current projects include a fill project to convert unusable land for future projects, a new public safety building, and passenger boarding bridges.
The acquisition of the land by the city in 1958 consisted of 780 acres and a 50 percent federal match. Subsequent property acquisitions over the years have been much smaller in size; most, if not all of them, were with airport funds and a larger (usually 90 percent) FAA match.
The City of Asheville paid about $250,000 for the land purchase and transfer in 1958. The land where the WNC Agricultural Center now sits was originally acquired as part of the airport. Because the airport did not get approval from Henderson County, the county has asserted that Asheville, which held title to the land, owes it back property taxes.
In 1979, the Asheville Regional Airport Authority Board was established by agreement between Buncombe County and the City of Asheville to “maintain, operate, regulate and improve the airport while enhancing the economy of the region.” For years, the Airport Authority was made up of three representatives from Asheville and three from Buncombe County, with a seventh member appointed at-large by authority members.
And in 1985, an agreement was reached between the City of Asheville and the State of North Carolina whereby Asheville agreed that it would lease, with anticipation of transfer upon FAA approval, three parcels of the land back to the state. Contracts were drawn up and a check was issued to the city by the State of North Carolina and was cashed by the city. But no approval from the FAA was ever sought.
What was the problem?
There was no independent regional board, complicating decision-making and raising expenses. Neither Buncombe County or Henderson County residents were given a fair voice in this supposedly regional board — even though several years ago the authority amended its rules to allow a member from either Buncombe County or Henderson county to be appointed. Representative McGrady was concerned that Asheville could conceivably take full control of the airport authority when the existing agreement between the City and County expires in 2018, leaving both Buncombe and Henderson Counties with little or no voice in what was designed to be a regional body.
The Asheville Regional Airport Authority Board members in 2012 were Chairman David Hillier of Asheville, Vice-Chairman David Gantt (currently Chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and appointed by Buncombe County), Esther Manheimer (now Mayor of the City of Asheville and appointed by Asheville City Council), Jeffrey Piccirillo of Weaverville (appointed by Buncombe County and currently serving as Secretary-Treasurer), Bob Roberts (appointed by Asheville City Council), Martha Thompson of Asheville (appointed by Buncombe County), and Bill Moyer, a resident of Henderson County (appointed at-large).
Then an extremely political body, the Airport Authority concentrated power in the hands of a very few politicians, who hold powerful political offices in Asheville or Buncombe County. And in essence, they appoint themselves.
House Bill 552
House Bill 552, sponsored by Representative McGrady, was signed into law (SL2012-121) by then Governor Perdue on June 28, 2012. Now, two Authority board members will be registered voters of the City of Asheville (appointed by the Asheville City Council); two will be registered voters of Buncombe County (appointed by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners); two will be registered voters of Henderson County (appointed by the Henderson County Board of Commissioners); and one will be appointed by majority vote of the other six members.
The new law also states that no person holding any elected public office may be a member of the Airport Authority, in order to avoid conflicts of interest — as well as to address a number of other perceived improprieties which have occurred over the years.
The new law also requires that each of the new board members have experience in an area that includes aviation, travel and tourism, marketing, business development, and/or economic development — while encouraging the various appointing authorities to seek members who have experience in logistics, construction and/or facilities management, law, accounting and/or finance. This exciting change will guarantee that the new airport board be comprised of the highest-qualified professionals with the skill sets necessary for effective governance. (For more information, please read Asheville regional Airport Authority Board Chairman David Hillier’s July 22 guest editorial in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Addressing Issues of Airport Governance).
The Authority’s management flexibility will be key to the airport’s continued growth and success. Grant applications, development of long-term leases, and non-aviation related business development will be more efficiently implemented.
County Chairman David Gantt expressed his support for a regional board to Senator Martin Nesbitt in the email below. He also addresses claims from the City of Asheville regarding compensation issues which seem to have no basis in fact:
From: David Gantt
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 2:28 PM
To: Martin L. Nesbitt
Subject: Asheville Airport- GANTT
I am in total support of independent Asheville Airport and hope you can support it. Buncombe is good with independent and understands FAA rules prevent any “reimbursement” or “compensation” for previous investments.
The City mistakenly believes they can get some $ back for the ~$250,000 land purchase and transfer from 1958. They haven’t put a cent in since. Buncombe County has invested $8 million as follows:
- 1998A $5,500,000 (Paid Off)
- 1998B $500,000 (Paid Off)
- 1991 $2,000,000 (Will pay off in FY12)
Thanks for your consideration and help on this.
Chairman – Buncombe County Commission
Under the new law, Henderson County will also give up its claims for back taxes against the city of Asheville — resolving a long-standing dispute between the city of Asheville and Henderson County — and saving Asheville taxpayers huge legal fees. The city of Asheville will now be required to finally surrender title to three parcels at the WNC Ag Center which it sold back to the state and was paid for back in 1985. Representative McGrady’s new law also prevents the airport authority from encroaching on or obtaining property in the Mills River Industrial Park, the new home to the $107 million Sierra Nevada brewery.
Monetary savings and government efficiencies began immediately when this law took effect on July 1, 2012. David Hillier, Asheville Regional Airport Authority board chairman, issued a statement after the bill was made law:
“Independent airport authorities are emerging more and more, due in large part to operational efficiencies that can be realized. This legislation is a positive one for the airport and the region. Our legislators’ support of this law recognizes the fact that AVL is in fact a regional economic engine. It is time for our governance structure to match what we have become.”
—David Hillier, Board Chairman, Asheville Regional Airport Authority
Did you know?
Asheville Regional Airport Authority Board meetings are held on the second Friday of each month in the airport terminal’s second floor Board Room at 8:30 a.m. and are open to the public. Call (828) 684-2226 x. 13231 for more information or visit www.flyavlfuture.com
Download a PDF of the Regional Feasibility Study for public transportation in the City of Asheville, Buncombe County and Henderson County (North Carolina Department of Transportation Public Transit Division, November 2009).