FLETCHER, N.C. (WSPA) – The Asheville Regional Airport has seen record passenger numbers flying through the airport over the past few years. They’re now in their first phase of an expansion project, aimed at keeping up with demand.

Almost two million people passed through the AVL last year, the most ever since the airport first opened over 60 years ago.

This summer topped those numbers with close to half a million travelers in June and July combined. 

The $400 million expansion project, AVL Forward, will add five more gates, taking the airport from seven to twelve, with more room for expansion. 

“Everything that you see when you come to this airport today will be completely gone and replaced when this project is complete,” said Tina Kinsey, VP of marketing and public relations for the airport. “It is really pivotal. It is transformational for our region and for our travelers.”

Kinsey said the design plan highlights the natural beauty of western North Carolina with a bright, large lobby, ticketing and baggage claim areas.

“We are excited because we drive over,” Tennessee resident James Phillips said. “It is an hour and half drive for us so we drive over here often because there are so many direct flights out of this airport. We are excited because hopefully they will add more direct flights and we will keep driving over here and flying out. The direct flights are nice.”

With a large influx of travelers they will have to accommodate, the airport said not only will there be a new terminal but more parking as well. A new lot will be open in the fall adding 600 additional spaces.

Kinsey said when she started in her position 13 years ago, she doesn’t know if she ever dreamed the airport would become what it will be soon.

“Did I see it coming? I don’t know,” Kinsey said. “It is hard to look back and know what I was thinking back in that time. I continue to be astounded by the extraordinary growth that we see but it is also so exciting and we are honored and thrilled to be moving forward with these transformative projects for the people who use this airport.”

Not only will the airport expansion affect those traveling but all of Western North Carolina is expected see an economic boost.

“We have significant economic impact to the region,” Kinsey said. “The estimate is about $2.5 billion a year is contributed to the economic vitality of the Western North Carolina region because of the existence of this airport.”

AIrport representatives said the transformative project will take place in three phases. 

Phase one, expected to be completed in 2025, will be the construction of a new north concourse.

Phase two will demolish and rebuild the south concourse, where the airport currently operates and phase three will address back of house construction, demolition, and cleanup.