The plane truth



A: Well, Fli, though practically Lilliputian in physical dimension, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport is hardly a stagnant, small airfield. Total passenger traffic this year had reached 301,122 as of November 19, an increase of 13.7 percent compared to the same period last year. So you’d be wise to wear your steel-toed shoes when braving the copious crowds inside.

 According to airport PR folk, in October a record 18,529 people flew out of Charlottesville compared to 16,613 in October 2003. The Airport Authority’s executive director, Bryan Elliot, gives partial credit to the burgeoning local economy, but says increased jet service by United and US Airways express airlines since 2002 has probably made the most impact.

 To keep up with the influx in flyers, the Authority drafted a 20-year plan to expand the airport. Highlights include an 800-foot runway expansion, additional parking lots, and a 3,000-foot expansion of the main building, principally for baggage screening—all pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Virginia Department of Aviation and Albemarle County. Meanwhile, the airport is putting the finishing touches on an 18,000-square-foot hanger for the ever-growing number of private planes of the flossin’ crowd flying in and out of Charlottesville.

 For those of us without our own personal Lear jet, US Airways, United and Delta now provide jumbo jet service, most often to Atlanta, New York LaGuardia, Charlotte and Philadelphia. Larry Banner, vice president and director of membership services for the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, says that beefing up CHO’s jet flight capacity will allow the airport to draw more local business travelers who might have previously driven up 29N to fly out of Dulles or Reagan airports, because “if people can get to a smaller airport without an increase in fees, they’ll do so.”

 And it’s not just local domestic travel that’s seen an uptick, according to Rochelle DeBaun of Peace Frogs Travel. Despite the currently lousy dollar-to-Euro exchange rate ($1.31 now buys one euro), Western Europe has become a popular destination for the Charlottesville trekker. Peace Frogs’ clients have recently flown as far as Mozambique and Tazmania.

 Ace believes the real question here, Fli, is why anyone would consider taking leave from this city in the first place. Please. Does Ace ever find the need to leave Charlottesville? Actually, Ace did spend two weeks in Philadelphia one weekend. But with those who claim the cheese steak and the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art that Rocky Balboa made famous surpass the delectability of the Virginia ham and the beauty of the Rotunda steps, Ace simply has to differ.

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