By Kelsey Hay
“From Atlantic to Pacific, gee, the traffic is terrific. Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays, ‘cause no matter how far away you roam, if you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home, sweet home.”
We’ve got to love Perry Como for spelling it out like it really is. Holiday travel, even if you’re flying off to see your loved ones, can leave you jet-lagged and ragged. This holiday season, keep it easy by flying out of our local travel hub: the Fayetteville Regional Airport. “You can’t beat home sweet home.”
Cleared for takeoff
Recently, the Fayetteville Regional Airport received a $20 million grant to help fund much needed renovations in order to accommodate the growth of the Sandhills area. Back in 1949, the Fayetteville Regional Airport was established and the current building dates back to 1969. Over the years there were periodic renovations and expansions, but the goal of this renovation, which will happen in stages and take around three years, is to upgrade the main airport building into a “modern terminal.”
I had the pleasure to sit down and speak with Airport Director Bradley Whited and Assistant Airport Director Alvester T. Coleman (Toney) Coleman, both of whom have been with the Fayetteville Regional Airport, for over 20 years. “That’s a lot of time to see growth,” reflected Whited. “In the time that Mr. Coleman and I have been here, and over the next few years, we will have seen all of the taxiways resurfaced.”
“This grant,” Whited explained, “is specifically for airports of our size. We will also be using federal funds for this purpose […] and, of course, the airport will need to use some of its own money for this as well.”
As the entrance and Concourse A expand during renovations, the entire building will get a facelift. Security checkpoints and the connection halls between concourses will open up and the interior of the terminal will also be given an update. In baggage claim, the conveyor belts will be replaced. “The airport still needs to remain functional as we do these changes,” expressed Whited. And, with the upcoming holiday season, both offered assurances that renovations will not negatively affect airport travel.
Though the exterior of the terminal may be changing, what makes this airport exceptional will not. For the last 20 years, the Fayetteville Regional Airport has received the achievement of “No Deficiencies Noted,” a perfect score on the yearly comprehensive safety inspections. In addition to being a Sustainable Sandhills certified Green Business, this makes the Fayetteville Regional Airport one of the cleanest and safest airports in the region.
When I asked the directors about this achievement, they explained to receive this status requires all airport staff to be up to date on training, paperwork and safety inspections. Whited added that everyone, from the top positions to the maintenance and custodial teams, works hard to keep facilities clean and equipment working properly and safely. “We are proud of what they do to keep it in shape,” stated Whited.
In addition to the cleanest and safest of facilities, the Fayetteville Regional Airport offers “a well-rounded compliment of amenities and resources.” Some of these amenities include free WiFi in the terminal, eight brand name rental car services, long-term parking, ground transportation, the USO Travel Center, a military liaison office for service members, a business center for travelers to use and print as the need and a restaurant.
The Fayetteville Regional Airport houses several corporate tenants as well: All American Aviation, which offers flight school and airplane rentals, Powell Avionics, Rogers Aircraft Service and Signature Flight Support. In addition, the airport has hangar rentals available for personal plane storage.
When asked what he enjoys most about working for the airport, Coleman said, “The people who fly through here and who we work with. We have the greatest team in the world.”
Military is such a significant aspect of our local community, and it is also an important element to the directors of the airport. Coleman arrived in Fayetteville as a soldier stationed at Fort Bragg. After he completed his military service, he began working at the airport. “Between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers travel through the Fayetteville Regional Airport each month,” he stated. As a former soldier himself, he appreciates soldiers who serve and their families and enjoys watching them all pass through the airport.
To accommodate these service members, the airport has a permanent military liaison office and a USO Travel Center, which recently celebrated its 5th anniversary. The USO offers service members, military retirees and their families a comfortable space to wait while at the airport between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The USO Travel Center is behind security, and Renee Lane, Director of the USO of North Carolina at the Fayetteville Regional Airport, said, “We offer Community coffee, snacks, bottled water, two Lenovo computers with CAC access, AT&T charging stations, TV, a separate area for families with children, travel supplies, phones, reading material and community information.”
The USO is completely staffed by volunteers. Ralph Hinrichs, a retired veteran and defense contractor who has volunteered at the USO for over a year, enjoys swapping stories and common experiences with soldiers young and old. “We can kick the gravel a little bit,” he mentioned, smiling.
When asked how the airport fared during Hurricane Matthew, Coleman reported, “We really fared extremely well.” Not only is flying in and out of the Fayetteville Regional Airport convenient, but it also supports a local business. “You will find that the Fayetteville Regional Airport has pretty competitive pricing, too,” he added.
Though the Fayetteville Regional Airport isn’t a large airport, it will get busier during the influx of holiday travelers, and Whited has his holiday advice. “It’s very important during the holidays, especially for the 6 a.m. flight, to come two hours before the flight leaves.” He advises travelers to know weight restrictions and baggage fees for the airline they are flying, and since regulations are always changing, he recommends checking tsa.gov to familiarize yourself with what you can and cannot bring through security.
If you have furry friends traveling with you or family members who may require special care, Whited said this won’t be an issue. “Airlines are happy to accommodate travelers with mobility issues and those traveling with pets, just make your request at the time you buy the ticket.”
As you plan your holiday travels, if you are military, going through security just got easier. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) now accepts all active duty military ID cards as qualification for TSA Pre-Check. Be sure to use your military ID when you check-in for your boarding pass. If you are not active duty military, you can apply for TSA Pre-Check on their website TSA.gov/precheck.
Whether you are flying in or out, greeting family and friends or exploring new travel destinations in the new year, keep the Fayetteville Regional Airport in mind. Coleman stated, “When you choose to fly through your hometown airport, you are supporting a local business, which means more opportunities for us to continue to make [the airport] great.”