Raleigh-Durham International Airport is located nine miles (14.5 km) northwest of the town of Morrisville in suburban Wake County, North Carolina, midway between the cities of Raleigh and Durham. The airport covers and operates three runways, providing direct service to 36 domestic and international destinations on 406 daily flights. In 2007, more than 10 million passengers traveled through the airport. The RDU Airport Authority is in charge of the governance and oversight of the airport facilities and its operations. The Airport Authority is controlled by a board comprised of members from the counties of Wake and Durham, and the cities of Raleigh and Durham.
The new Raleigh-Durham airport opened for commercial service on May 1, 1943 inaugurated with flights by Eastern Airlines. The passenger terminal was built from materials remaining after the construction of four Army barracks for the site's use as an Army Air Forces Air Technical Service Command airfield. Following World War II, Capital Airlines and Piedmont Airlines joined Eastern at RDU. Delta Air Lines and Allegheny Airlines began service in the 1970s, and Trans World Airlines and American Airlines began service in the 1980s.
In the mid 1980s, American Airlines aimed to gain market share in the lucrative Northeast-to-Florida travel market and the U.S. East Coast market generally. The airline had little presence in this market, especially as its primary hubs, Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago, were too far west to compete with Delta Air Lines (Atlanta), Piedmont Airlines (Charlotte and Baltimore/Washington), and Eastern Air Lines (Atlanta and Miami).
Two years after beginning service in April 1985, Raleigh-Durham (RDU) was selected as a new East Coast north-south hub connecting the two markets, the Northeast and Florida, that American was coveting. (Nashville was selected as its east-west counterpart.) On June 15, 1987, just two years after initiating service at RDU, American inaugurated its new hub at the 30-gate Terminal C, which the RDU Airport Authority had sanctioned American to build to suit the airline's own specifications. In 1988, American launched the first scheduled intercontinental flight from RDU, a daily roundtrip to Orly International Airport in Paris operated using a Boeing 767-200ER.
By 1987, RDU had doubled in size due to American Airlines's hub. In addition to constructing Terminal C, the airline also constructed a new apron and a new second runway capable of then handling the largest wide bodies.
Then, in mid-December 1989, Eastern Air Lines' creditors and AMR Corporation agreed upon the sale of the former's Latin American routes from Miami. Miami subsequently became an American hub in 1989, which undercut the airline's hub at Raleigh-Durham, with most of the new Miami flights serving Northeastern cities directly, bypassing RDU. Miami's larger market size, coupled with its greater share of origin-and-destination (O&D) traffic than RDU, made operations more profitable for American to fly its Florida-Northeast routes non-stop, without the use of its Raleigh-Durham hub. Despite the presence of the Miami hub, however, traffic at RDU continued to grow, peaking in 1992 with 9.9 million passengers.
Nonetheless, American began downsizing its operations at RDU in September 1993, initiating a three-year period of reductions before shuttering the hub entirely in 1996. Mainline daily departures were reduced to 113 during the period. Service was pared further in May 1994 to 105 daily departures. In January and May 1994, a total of 284 American employees were laid off at RDU; many more were transferred to Dallas/Forth Worth, Miami and other stations.
American discontinued 16 additional daily flights in June 1994, and further pared its mainline daily departures to 70 that August. International service to Paris ceased in September 1994, following the busy summer travel season. However RDU saw a progressive switch from AA to its regional subsidiary American Eagle during the year, and American Eagle flights increased to 112 per day, somewhat offsetting the loss in service, at least temporarily. Ultimately, the regional subsidiary completely pulled out of RDU in January 1995, reducing the hub's daily departures to just 50 per day.
Boeing 727s and McDonnell Douglas MD-80s built the backbone of American's RDU operations; Boeing 767s were used for the trans-Atlantic routes, and DC-10s operated on the LGA/BOS-RDU-MCO/MIA trunk routes for some time. Closer to the termination of the hub, American also operated Fokker F100s there.
With 45 daily departures remaining, the American Airlines hub at RDU was officially closed on May 1, 1996, one year after the closing of American's Nashville hub and shortly before the airline's termination of its San Jose hub.
At the height of its operations, Midway offered almost 200 daily flights from RDU and served 25 destinations along the East Coast. The airline primarily served passengers traveling between cities in the Northeast and Southeast markets.
The high-tech slump of 2000-01 negatively impacted Midway, especially given the airline's reliance on corporate origin-and-destination traffic from its high-tech Research Triangle Park (RTP) hub location. In 2001, Midway laid off 700 employees, about half of its work force, eliminating service to 9 cities and cutting flights to 18 others. The airline also pared its fleet by 17 aircraft. The carrier abruptly filed for bankruptcy on the evening of August 13, 2001; suddenly laying off thousands of employees and disrupting the travel plans of its ticket holders.
After bankruptcy, Midway liquidated its aircraft fleet except for six regional jets. The airline then ceased operations under its own livery and became a US Airways Express affiliate carrier, focusing on regional flights within North and South Carolina. The company ceased operations completely in 2003 after it was unable to secure the capital to stay afloat in the industry downturn following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
American Airlines launched new daily transatlantic service to London (Gatwick) in May, 1994, using a Boeing 767-200ER. (This flight now uses 777-200, and sometimes 767-300ER, equipment.) Growth on the route continues today, partly due to the needs of the region's corporate travelers, particularly those of GlaxoSmithKline which has major bases of operation in west London and the Research Triangle region. On March 29, 2008, American upgraded its London flight to serve the larger and more centrally located Heathrow Airport.
The airport is currently implementing the most ambitious expansion in its history, begun in 2006 and slated for completion in Fall 2011.
Due to high fuel prices, AMR reduced the number of flights by cutting Jacksonville FL, Kansas City MO, Newark NJ and Louisville KY. Mainline flights to Austin, New York-LaGuardia, and St Louis were dropped. Other destinations saw reduced service or downgrade of service. Along with the American cuts, other airlines cut flights and destinations also. This included United's Denver service and Midwest Connect's Milwaulkee service, while other airlines dropped frequencies on routes. For the 2008 year, RDU lost over 30 flights compared to March 2008 schedule.
| *1985 = 2.7 Million|
*1986 = 3.1 Million
*1987 = 4.8 Million
*1988 = 7.3 Million
*1989 = 8.5 Million
| *1990 = 9.2 Million|
*1991 = 9.3 Million
*1992 = 9.9 Million
*1993 = 9.6 Million
*1994 = 8.9 Million
*1995 = 5.9 Million
*1996 = 6.4 Million
*1997 = 6.7 Million
*1998 = 7.2 Million
*1999 = 8.9 Million
| *2000 = 10.4 Million|
*2001 = 9.6 Million
*2002 = 8.2 Million
*2003 = 7.9 Million
*2004 = 8.6 Million
*2005 = 9.4 Million
*2006 = 9.4 Million
*2007 = 10.0 Million
Terminal B subsequently lost its identity when it was renovated into an extension of Terminal A, and an airside walkway currently links the original Terminal A gates with the former terminal B gates. Terminal C partially closed in 2005 for extensive renovations and a significant expansion to triple its size. The terminal is slated for reopening in two phases, one in late 2008 and the other in 2011.
Then, in December 2003, the Airport Authority announced plans to expand and renovate the originally 300,000-square-foot (28,000 m²) Terminal C, transforming it into a new 900,000 ft² (84,000 m²) facility. However, in January 2006, however, the airport authority decided instead to essentially rebuild the entire Terminal C (the terminal remains partially operational during the reconstruction) rather than renovating and expanding the current facility. With the demise of the American and Midway hubs, a greater number passengers using Terminal C were originating or ending their trips at RDU, rather than merely making a connection there, requiring a complete reconfiguration of the building's land-side facilities. Originally, the plans called for just a new north concourse and a renovation of the south concourse, however, in December 2006 the Airport Authority decided to completely rebuild the entire facility. After the new north concourse comes in operation in the Fall of 2008, the south concourse will be demolished.
The new terminal, which will be renamed Terminal 2 upon reopening, will have 32 gates, of which three will be configured for international flights. All the gates will feature adjustable jetbridges that will accommodate aircraft from regional jets to Boeing 747s. The federal inspection facility for international flights, currently consisting of four immigration stations, will be increased to 16 immigration stations. This increase should reduce processing times for passengers from the current average wait of 90 minutes or longer to less than 45 minutes. The proposed occupants of the rebuilt terminal are Air Canada, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways.
To monitor the construction progress of the new Terminal 2, check the Construction Photo Page of the RDU website. Terminal C Redevelopment was designed by Fentress Architects to invoke the flowing hills and culture of North Carolina's Piedmont region.
Upon the completion of Terminal 2, the current Terminal A (which also encompasses the former Terminal B gates) will be renamed Terminal 1. The current plan is to renovate and refurbish the facility to house gates for low-cost carriers. The proposed tenants are AirTran, JetBlue, and Southwest. However, as of January 2008, RDU is currently in the process of deciding to rebuild Terminal A. If Terminal A is chosen to be rebuilt, the price tag would be $200 Million dollars.
Phase 1 of Terminal 2 will open on October 26, 2008.
RDU's General Aviation Terminal serves as a pilot's resource center, a private-event facility, offices for local aviation-related companies and as a place of embarkation and debarkation for a variety of private and chartered flights (sports, military and leisure). The terminal also houses the Cross-Winds Cafe and one of the airport's two observation decks, that overlooks runway 5R/23L. The Raleigh-Wake squadron from the North Carolina wing of the Civil Air Patrol meets here.
A rental car facility is located in the terminal for general-aviation customers, military personnel and charter flight passengers.
RDU maintains two public observation decks. One deck overlooks runway 5L/23R near the air traffic control tower and park-and-ride lot 2. It has a playground with a simplistic model of RDU's runways for kids and air traffic communications are broadcast via a loudspeaker for the curious public.
The second deck is located at the General Aviation Terminal. It includes a cafe called CrossWinds Cafe. This observation deck allows for both inside and outside viewing.
Terminal A opened in 1981 and was expanded to incorporate the former Terminal B gates in the late 1990s.
Terminal C was opened in 1987 and currently under re-construction. Expansion is underway; the North Concourse and Federal Inspection Station will open on October 26, 2008, while the South Concourse and remaining areas are scheduled to be completed by Fall 2011.
(These airlines fly mainly in and out of Terminal C.)