Full Flights Signal Strong Demand
Editorial: John Brantley,
The summer weather to this point has been hot, and air travel has been hot as well. Through the first half of the year, the number of passengers flying to and from RDU is slightly ahead of 2009, but due to continuing reduction by the airlines in the number of flights and available seats, the percentage of seats filled has reached record levels. In June, nearly 87 percent of the seats on scheduled flights departing RDU and nearly 84 percent of those on arriving flights were filled, both all-time records for any month at RDU. Air cargo also has been on the move, its volume increasing by 12 percent versus last year.
While we are pleased with the upward trend, it seems clear that customer demand for air travel to and from RDU is being constrained by available capacity in the marketplace. Since April 2008, or for 26 months in a row, the number of available seats on flights arriving and departing RDU has declined every month. If that trend continues through the second half of the year, by the year's end only slightly more than 80 percent of the number of seats that were available during 2007 will have been offered during 2010.
As is well known, when the capacity to serve demand is limited, price increases. Thus, even in the midst of the economic recession, the airlines as an industry have begun making profits and will continue to do so as long as the price of fuel remains relatively stable and they don't increase their fleets, workforce and labor costs a great deal. Unfortunately for RDU, growth is stymied when potential travelers can't travel because seats aren't available.
As should be expected, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to recruit more air service. There have been some additions to this point of the year, including the resumption by Delta of nonstop service between RDU and Los Angeles in early June, but also some losses, mostly in regional jet service, as well. We have seen mainline service with larger aircraft replace small regional jets in some instances and also larger regional jets being operated by several carriers, but there is a need for more flights by larger aircraft to both existing and new nonstop destinations if the decline in available seats is to be reversed and the quality of service improved. Discussions with both current and new-to-RDU airlines are ongoing and good prospects are developing, which makes us optimistic there will be some real successes in the very near term.
Recently, the joint application to the USDOT and the European Union of American Airlines and British Airways to be allowed to coordinate flight schedules, pricing and other aspects of their operations without violating anti-trust statutes was approved by both regulators. This should enable AA and BA, who belong to the oneworld™ alliance, to compete even more vigorously with both the Star™ and Skyteam™ alliance carriers on flights to Europe and beyond. This should benefit RDU passengers who patronize American's daily flight between RDU and London Heathrow.
Progress on completing the final phase of Terminal 2 is moving toward the finish line at a rapid pace. Opening is set for Sunday, January 23, 2011, one week before the National Hockey League's All-Star Game at the RBC Center in Raleigh. On that date, both Continental and US Airways flight operations will relocate from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2, joining Air Canada, American, Delta and United in the new building. If the proposed merger between Continental and United is approved late in the year as many expect, RDU likely will be one of the first airports at which the operations of the two carriers are combined.
In addition to developing strategic plans for achieving some of the Authority's objectives for the future, projects on which we are now working include limited interior reconfiguration and renovation of the main part of Terminal 1 following completion of Terminal 2 in order to refurbish that building and relocate Southwest's flight operations there when completed, developing the site for a Burger King and later a sit-down restaurant to be built adjoining Sheetz at Aviation Station, planning future use of airport property west of Brier Creek Reservoir on part of which a consolidated car rental center is expected to one day be developed, and completing the installation of LED lighting of the runways and taxiways on the airport. Even in the midst of difficult economy, we are confident of the future of RDU and know that improvements will always need to be made. We trust the airport will continue to serve your needs and meet your expectations and appreciate the support you give it with your patronage.
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