Business Up at Asheville, N.C. Airport

After several years of declining usage, passenger traffic through Asheville Regional jumped 18.5 percent in 2004 and was up 40.4 percent for the first two months of 2005.

Many other airports are seeing passenger growth as well, although most not nearly as rapid as Asheville's. Air travel grew 5.5 percent statewide from 2003 to 2004 and 3.4 percent nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

''The fear of flying has dropped precipitously ... after 9/11. People are more comfortable,'' said John Kasarda, a professor of management at UNC Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler School of Business who specializes in the airline industry. ''Most important is the economy has come back.''

''There's just simply more people traveling,'' Phillips said. ''We're getting surveys from people who are saying this is our first time traveling since 9/11.''

A nationwide move away from turboprop aircraft to regional jets among airlines may have also helped Asheville, where practically all service is on ''commuter'' affiliates of mainline carriers.

Turbulence can create a bumpier ride on a turboprop and ''a lot of folks just feel more secure flying in a jet,'' Anderson said. ''They don't like to see that propeller out the window.''

Phillips and Anderson concede that there are still some travelers who drive to other airports for cheaper fares or more reliable travel, figuring every connecting flight they take is another opportunity for a delay.

The competitiveness of Asheville fares still depends on where and when a traveler is going and varies from week to week.

The average roundtrip fare, with a 30-day advance purchase, for the 50 top destinations from Asheville Regional was $310 last week. From Greenville-Spartanburg, the average for the same cities was $274. Charlotte's average was $258 and Atlanta's $235.

But, Young said, ''by and large, the fares are competitive. ... If there are any savings at all (from using another airport) it's not worth the drive.''

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