Roanoke–Blacksburg Regional Airport (IATA: ROA, ICAO: KROA, FAA LID: ROA), also known as Woodrum Field, is a regional airport located three nautical miles (6 km) northwest of the central business district of Roanoke, a city in Roanoke County, Virginia, United States. It is governed by the five-member Roanoke Regional Airport Commission that includes representatives from both the city and county of Roanoke. The airport has two runways and over 60 scheduled flights each day.
As per Federal Aviation Administration records, the airport had 315,293 passenger boardings (enplanements) in calendar year 2008, 297,588 enplanements in 2009, and 316,478 in 2010. It is included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2011–2015, which categorized it as a primary commercial service airport (more than 10,000 enplanements per year).
With a history stretching to the time following World War I, Roanoke Regional Airport has evolved from a pair of dirt runways and a single hangar to a fully equipped, modern airport serving multiple commercial airlines. Today the airport features a terminal building completed in 1989, a pair of asphalt runways, and a control tower completed in 2005 that serves the residents of the greater Roanoke Valley.
Roanoke Regional saw 685,000 passengers in 2007, with 71 percent on-time departures and 68 percent on-time arrivals. The top carriers into Roanoke for 2007 were Piedmont Airlines with 25.96 percent, Atlantic Southeast Airlines with 13.87 percent and Trans States Airlines with 12.98 percent of all passengers. The top destinations from Roanoke for 2007 included Charlotte with 24.2 percent, Atlanta with 18.7 percent and Chicago with 14 percent of all travelers. As of February 2008, 1,379 daily seats were available for passengers traveling from Roanoke.
After World War I, the idea of opening an airport to serve the Roanoke Valley became more of a priority for local leaders. The original purpose of the facility was to provide for a landing strip, aircraft storage, as well as serving as a flight school for local residents. The original location of Roanoke's airport was 6 miles (9.7 km) north of the Roanoke city limits in Roanoke County. The location for the airport was secured on July 1, 1929, when the city of Roanoke signed the lease on the land to operate the Roanoke Municipal Airport. The original facility featured a single 83 feet (25 m) x 100 feet (30 m) hangar and a pair of dirt runways, and the first commercial service commenced in 1933 when Ludington Airlines made Roanoke a stop on their New York to Nashville route.
By 1934, American Airlines began service to Roanoke, but they later moved their operations to Lynchburg in 1937 due to the poor conditions in Roanoke. After American's withdrawal, city leaders determined a new facility needed to be constructed to replace the existing field. Originally privately operated, the city of Roanoke took control of the facility in 1937, after it purchased the original hangar, with Works Progress Administration funds paying the costs of paving the runways. After the airport was declared a national defense project, federal funds became available to complete the facility, and on December 15, 1941, it was officially dedicated. The airport was named Woodrum Field in honor of Clifton A. Woodrum, the congressional representative from Virginia's Sixth District, and after it reopened, American Airlines reestablished service to Roanoke Municipal Airport.
Shortly after it departed from Asheville Regional Airport in Asheville, North Carolina, on July 19, 1967, Piedmont Airlines Flight 22 collided with a twin-engine Cessna 310 on approach to Asheville. At the time of the accident, the Piedmont Boeing 727 was en route to Roanoke. There were 82 fatalities and no survivors, making this the deadliest accident associated with Roanoke Regional Airport.
When facilities reached their maximum capacity, the need for upgrades became necessary for the airport to continue to grow. A proposal for runway expansion as well as facilities upgrades was developed in 1975, but was subsequently put on hold while a new regional airport was being studied to serve both Roanoke and all of Southwest Virginia. During this time airline deregulation was put in place, and combined with the airport's aging facilities and the phasing out of turbo prop aircraft in favor of jet aircraft by the airlines, the airport's outdated infrastructure and deteriorating condition resulted in a decline of service to the airport. In order to allow for larger, jet aircraft to land, a runway expansion began in the early 1980s. With the runway extension underway, the airport officially changed its name from Roanoke Municipal Airport to Roanoke Regional Airport in 1983. The runway expansion project was completed in 1985.
Between 1984–1985, the city of Roanoke developed an Airport Master Plan calling for $43.8 million to be spent in the development of a new terminal building, in addition to other improvements throughout the site. With $15.4 million secured in state and local funding for its implementation, the remainder of the costs were covered by local authorities. From this need for funding, the idea for the creation of a Regional Airport Commission to oversee airport operations was proposed. Approved by the Virginia General Assembly on February 18, 1986, and initiated on July 1, 1987, the Roanoke Regional Airport Commission consisted of five members, with three appointed from Roanoke City and two appointed from Roanoke County. The creation of the commission ended the city of Roanoke's role as the sole operator of the airport, which had stretched from 1934 through 1987.
Although Roanoke has never had international passenger service, in 2001, the Airport Commission was prepared to change the airport's name to Roanoke International Airport. This was the case as the U.S. Customs Service increased the radius covered by the inland port in Dublin to include Roanoke. This expansion allowed for the airport to add customs officials to accommodate both international travel and cargo to pass through Roanoke's facilities. However, the renaming did not occur as a result of the economic downturn in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In 2007, the prospect of changing the airport's name was again mentioned as a possibility by the Airport Commission.
Local residents and businesses sometimes complain about the airport's limited number of non-stop flights and lack of low priced fares. Airport officials estimate that around a third of airline tickets purchased by area residents are for travel from other airports. Competition includes Piedmont Triad International Airport near Greensboro, North Carolina, as an alternate and others farther away which have service from Southwest Airlines or international flights. However, aviation industry consultant Michael Boyd compared Roanoke's level of air service favorably to similarly sized cities.
In an effort to add more options for travelers in Roanoke, the airport added non-stop service to Orlando in May 2006 and Tampa in December 2006 with Allegiant Air. This is largely seen as the product of an effort by local leaders to bring new and improved service to the airport through both existing and new carriers. Earlier attempts to lobby AirTran Airways and the now defunct Independence Air to serve the airport were unsuccessful.
In the time since the initial commercial service to Roanoke commenced in 1933, various airlines have offered non-stop service to and from Roanoke. Prior to airline deregulation, carriers such as Eastern Airlines provided service. However, the original Piedmont Airlines has left the most lasting legacy on commercial aviation in Roanoke.
Piedmont service originally commenced on April 16, 1948, with only a pair of flights, which carried 42 passengers. In the 1970s, Piedmont established a regional hub in Roanoke with 45 daily flights, that served 330,000 passengers by 1973. By 1982, Piedmont accounted for 89 percent of all passengers that traveled through Roanoke.
From Roanoke, Piedmont provided non-stop service to many cities including but not limited to: Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago-O'Hare, Greensboro, Louisville, Nashville, Newark, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and Washington-Reagan. Piedmont continued to serve Roanoke through its merger with USAir, and the final Piedmont flights from Roanoke occurred on August 4, 1989.
During the period of Piedmont’s dominance, several regional airlines established service to Roanoke only to later pull out. Between October 29, 1978, and February 1979, Allegheny Airlines provided non-stop service to Pittsburgh, Aeromech Airlines briefly provided service to selected West Virginia destinations in the early 1980s, and Air Virginia provided service from the 1970s through the mid-1980s.
In the period following the Piedmont-USAir merger, Roanoke has seen various carriers enter and exit the local market. American Eagle discontinued service to its Raleigh-Durham hub in December 1994. In January 1996, Continental Express offered daily flights to its Newark hub only to have the service discontinued on November 1, 1997. Other carriers still operating at Roanoke have decreased the number of destinations served from Roanoke since the early 1990s. U.S. Airways Express has eliminated non-stop service to Baltimore, Charlottesville, Dayton, Pittsburgh and Washington-Reagan since 1990, Northwest Airlink eliminated service to Newark in December 1992, and Delta eliminated service to Cincinnati on Chautauqua Airlines in September 2008. In 2010, Delta and Northwest Airlink merged, which it results to a decrease in the number of commercial operations at ROA.
The current terminal building was designed by the Charlotte based architectural firm of Odell Associates and was built to serve as a replacement for the 1953 terminal, later demolished in 2005. Construction of the terminal commenced in 1987, and it opened in October 1989 at a final cost of $25 million. The Y-shaped building features a front of blue-tinted, reflecting glass with exposed white triangular tube steel trusses. The lobby interior includes an arched brick wall leading out into a central plaza and front courtyard at the main entrance. The terminal was constructed to handle passengers expected through the year 2010, with a design that allows for expansion when warranted. Outside the terminal is an abstract, steel sculpture by New York artist Albert Paley entitled Aurora. Installed in October 1990, the sculpture is 21 feet (6.4 m) feet in height.
Landside facilities, or the facilities located outside the TSA security checkpoint, include check-in, car rental, baggage claim and a taxi hire. The upper-level has a small cafe and newsstand. The upper-level Airside, or the facilities located inside the TSA security checkpoint, has seven gates (Gates 1–6 and 5A), and a small cafe area. Additionally, the entire terminal has been a free wi-fi hotspot since April 2, 2003, when the service was initiated.
Designed for future expansion to accommodate additional aircraft, there has been talk of a terminal expansion, though official plans have yet to be announced. However, with the gate space being used to 100 percent capacity at peak times, there is very little capacity available for new flights unless they arrive and depart at off-peak times (10 AM-12 PM),(7 PM-10 PM).
Roanoke Regional Airport features a pair of runways originally completed in 1942. The largest runway is 6,800 feet (2,100 m) x 150 feet (46 m) and the other runway is 5,810 feet (1,770 m) x 150 feet (46 m) in total length.
Originally 5,900 feet (1,800 m) in length, an expansion to lengthen Runway 6/24 was originally envisioned in the 1970s. However, expansion was delayed until the early 1980s while a proposed new regional airport serving Roanoke, Lynchburg and Martinsville, to be built in Bedford County, was evaluated. Once the regional airport proposal was scrapped, the expansion was completed in 1985 and 900 feet (270 m) was added to its eastern end to allow for fully loaded jet aircraft to take off and land with a full load.
The expansion also resulted in the creation of a tunnel beneath Runway 06/24 along Virginia State Route 118. Completed between 1983 and 1985, it is maintained by the Roanoke Regional Airport Commission. The most recent runway refurbishment was completed in 2002, in addition to the relocating one of the taxiways to prevent runway incursions.
Due to the size and layout of its runways, the airport has been rated among the top ten airports within a couple of hours of Andrews Air Force Base for training pilots in the 89th Operations Group. This group is responsible for piloting Air Force One as the Special Air Mission fleet for the President of the United States.
Throughout its history, Roanoke Regional Airport has had five separate control towers serve the airport. The first tower was commissioned in March 1943, and the fourth was commissioned on June 6, 1952, and located atop the original terminal building. With the opening of the new terminal in 1989, a replacement tower became necessary in order to allow for the demolition of the original terminal building. Additionally, it would also provide controllers unobstructed views of the entire airport, which was not the case in the original structure.
Federal funding for a new tower fell through in both 1993 and 1997, but in 1999 the FAA announced they were restarting the Roanoke project, paving the way for its construction. The present tower is 197 feet (60 m) in height and has been operational since it was commissioned by the FAA on December 5, 2004. It was officially dedicated on May 16, 2005, in honor of former Roanoke air traffic manager John Hinkle.
Twenty-nine air traffic controllers work the Roanoke air traffic control facility, which in addition to the tower includes a TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control), that also provides air traffic services for Lynchburg, Smith Mountain Lake, New London, Brookneal and the Falwell Airport in Lynchburg. The TRACON also provides non radar services to Dublin, Blacksburg, and Hillsville due to limitations on the airport's surveillance radar caused by the surrounding terrain. The total airspace controlled by Roanoke stretches well over 200 miles (320 km) from the Mountain Empire region to Farmville.
Roanoke Regional features a large surface parking lot, which is divided into long term (996 spaces) and short term (226 spaces) parking. An additional 598 parking spaces are available in an overflow lot across Aviation Drive during peak travel times. In service since 1990, a small parking shuttle bus operates every 10 to 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and midnight. Future improvements to the parking areas will result in the construction of a multi-level parking garage atop the site of the existing long term lot.
The airport is accessible from via Aviation Drive, which branches off Hershberger Road just east of Exit 3E off I-581 leading to downtown Roanoke. The airport can also be accessed from Virginia State Route 118 by connecting with Municipal Drive just east of the terminal.
Major rental car companies serve the airport. Taxi and limousine service is provided by local companies.
The airport is also served by the Smart Way Bus, with its stop located outside the eastern end of the terminal. Operating Monday through Saturday, the Smart Way serves both downtown Roanoke as well as Salem, Christiansburg, Blacksburg and Virginia Tech. Although Valley Metro does not directly serve the main terminal, Route 16 does make a scheduled stop just east of the main parking lot.
TNCs such as Uber and Lyft are currently banned, although pickup could be arranged at locations across the street.
The following airlines offer scheduled passenger service:Allegiant Air uses MD-82/83 jet aircraft seating 130–150 people. Occasionally Allegiant operates their Airbus a320's to ROA.
Delta Airlines operates Airbus A319/320's and Boeing 717/737's to Roanoke
Delta Connection carriers use Canadair Regional Jets (Endeavor and ExpressJet), which seat between 50 and 76 passengers.
United Express uses multiple regional aircraft to service Roanoke Regional, the Embraer 145 and Canadair Regional Jets are the standard for flights by ExpressJet and Trans State Airlines and DeHavilland Dash 8-200/300 are standard for Commutair.
American Eagle contracts a number of regional carriers to fly into Roanoke. Their aircraft are as follows:
Air Wisconsin—Canadair Regional Jets (50 seat medium range regional jets)
Piedmont Airlines—DeHavilland Dash 8-100/300 (37-50 seat turboprop aircraft)
PSA Airlines—Canadair Regional Jets (50–70 seat regional jet aircraft)
FedEx operates Boeing 757 cargo aircraft to ROA.
UPS serves Roanoke with a Boeing 757 and an Airbus A300.