Year in Review: RDU Passes 10 Million Mark
Editorial: John Brantley, Airport Director
The year 2007 has concluded and 2008 has begun. Air passengers traveling to or from RDU during 2007 grew 6.4% versus 2006 to 10.034 million, which is the second highest number in the airport’s history. The highest was 10.434 million in 2000, but 1.564 million of those were transferring from one flight to another as Midway Airlines was operating a hub at RDU then. The number of transfer passengers in 2007 was less than 50 thousand.
Air cargo shipping and flight operations also increased in 2007 versus the prior year, the former by 1.5% and the latter by about 3.1%. The number of vehicles parking in the public lots grew by 5%, while the number of taxicab trips also increased by 5%. The number of seats that were available on departing airline flights grew by 9.3%, indicating that there was good growth in the number of daily flights (to 240 by year-end), in the number of nonstop destinations (to 45), and in average aircraft size.
In the spring, several airlines added new flights and destinations, including inauguration of service to five destinations by ExpressJet Airlines beginning on May 7th and the return of service to Milwaukee by Midwest Connect on June 1st. The highlight was United Airlines beginning service to Denver on April 24th and on September 13th resuming operation of its own station at RDU, having departed in late October 2001. United reported this as being the only time it has resumed operation at an airport at which it previously discontinued service.
Four airlines already have announced service improvements at RDU in early 2008. JetBlue will begin service to Fort Lauderdale on January 10th, Southwest will do likewise on February 4th, Air Tran will begin service to Orlando on February 14th, Delta will begin Saturday only service to Cancun on February 16th, and Southwest will begin service to Denver on May 10th.
Corporate aviation use of RDU also grew notably during the year, as did private charter flights transporting the local universities’ football and basketball teams, the Carolina Hurricanes, and their opponents. On October 1st, one of the airport’s two fixed base operators, Southern Jet, was acquired by TAC Air, which is rated by corporate pilots as the top FBO chain in the U.S. and is aggressively pursuing new business. The other operator, Landmark Aviation, also was sold late in the year and is expected to grow its business as well. Private aircraft based at RDU total over 200, with 35 being jets, another 25 turboprops and 5 helicopters.
On May 15th, the Authority sold $152 million in airport revenue bonds at a true interest cost of 4.69% to complete financing of the development of the new facility that will replace Terminal C. At the same time, both Moody’s and Fitch upgraded the Authority’s credit rating to double A, making it one of about 11 airports in the U.S. to hold a double A rating. That was a noteworthy achievement for an airport our size that isn’t operated by a port authority or a major metropolitan city.
Several new customer service amenities were welcomed to RDU during 2007. XpresSpa, offering massage therapy to travelers, opened in both terminals early in the year, Starbucks opened in Terminal A on June 4th, and many of the concessions in both terminals were refurbished and several converted to new offerings throughout the year. In addition, the Sheetz service station/convenience store on Aviation Parkway at National Guard Drive opened on June 20th and has been a great success. Early in 2008, we will activate a frequent parker program that should be of interest and benefit to our many frequent travelers.
On the airport, first phase construction of the new terminal progressed throughout the year. That phase, to be occupied by Air Canada, American, Delta and United, should open in late summer 2008, about the same time as the new Raleigh Convention Center. When fully completed in late 2010, this 900,000 sq. ft., 32-gate structure also will house Continental, Northwest and US Airways. At a cost of some $570 million, it is the largest single facility public infrastructure project ever undertaken in Wake County.
The year 2007 was a very good year for RDU in virtually every respect and gives rise to much optimism for 2008. The economy of the Triangle region remains strong, and that means increasing air travel and use of the airport. We look forward with great anticipation to the opening of the new terminal’s first phase and to quickly thereafter beginning work on the second phase. At RDU, we and our many tenant businesses appreciate your support and thank you for your patronage. Have a great year in 2008 and allow us to offer you excellence in customer service whenever you use the airport!
to the Newsletter