The next steps: CHO’s got its passengers covered

CHO’s new jet bridges make is easier for passengers with limited mobility to get on and off airplanes.
Jeanne Siler CHO’s new jet bridges make is easier for passengers with limited mobility to get on and off airplanes. Jeanne Siler

By Jeanne Nicholson Siler

April showers have finally brought May flowers, but any time it’s precipitating at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport, some passengers boarding or leaving airplanes will have a dry passage—at least part of the way.

The airport purchased four portable jet bridges—covered ramps—earlier this year to eliminate the movable steps between a plane and the tarmac that have typically greeted airline travelers heading to and from the terminal.

“The mobile ramps were just one phase of our plan to improve the aircraft loading/unloading experience at CHO,” says airport spokesman Jason Burch.

And that’s not all.

“The next stage of our plan includes a covered walkway system that will stretch the length of our entire ramp and will be designed to protect passengers from rain, snow and strong winds,” Burch adds. “We are in the final design and approval phase and would like to see the procurement, assembly and installation phase to be completed in the next 18 months.”

Locals tend to be either proud of the small five-gate airport eight miles north of the city, or they eschew it for larger terminals in northern Virginia or Richmond because of the smaller regional jets typically used for the flights from CHO to a half dozen larger hubs.

Frustration at the lack of terminal facilities was quelled somewhat in 2015 when a bar and concession service began operating on the lower level. And of the four sets of escalators in the Charlottesville area, two are used to take travelers first up and then down to planes waiting at Gate 5. (The other two escalators in town are at Michael’s and Regal Stonefield.)

More than 50 flights leave from and arrive at CHO each day. Delta, American and United currently serve the 63-year-old public airport.

According to Burch, director of air service and marketing, Delta has had a traditional jet bridge at the ground level Gate 3 for more than a decade. Because Delta sometimes flies a Boeing 757 into CHO, the airport bought the first of its new mobile ramps in 2013 for that plane, he says. Larger than the four new ones, that ramp, which declares Charlottesville “Home of the Cavaliers” and showcases UVA’s crossed swords logo and the letters WAHOOWA on its sides, is also frequently used by planes chartered for University of Virginia athletes.

American Airlines was the first to complete the training and begin implementation of the new domestic ramps, which were purchased for a little more than $50,000 each. All three airlines plan to eventually use the covered walkway, no-step mobile ramp systems, as they not only shelter passengers from the worst weather conditions, but also aid those with limited mobility.

Burch says the new equipment is more efficient, convenient and safer.

A passenger departing recently at CHO after a trip to Fort Lauderdale was overheard saying how convenient the ramp was compared to the former metal stairs, though she still had to stand in a light drizzle to wait for the cart bearing her valet-checked bag.

That, too, could be changing soon.