Overall photo of RDU

RDU History

Since 1938, the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority has played a central role in the growth of the Research Triangle Region.

On May 1, 1943, the first commercial flight landed at  what was then Raleigh-Durham Army Airfield– a DC-3 aircraft operated by Eastern Airlines and destined for Florida. The flight originated in New York and RDU was one of 5 stop-overs en route to Miami.

The N.C. General Assembly charters the Raleigh-Durham Aeronautical Authority in 1939, changed in 1945 to the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority.

In a full-page ad in area newspapers, Eastern Airlines President Captain Eddie Rickenbacker urges Wake and Durham counties and the cities of Durham and Raleigh to build an airport together. “Do not allow civic jealousies or selfish motives to creep into a project that means so much to all of you,” says Rickenbacker in 1940.

While under construction, RDU is taken over in 1942 by the federal government for use during World War II. The base is designated Raleigh-Durham Army Air Field in January 1943 with barracks and three runways becoming operational on May 1, 1943. The base serves as a training facility for the Army Air Corps until Jan. 1, 1948.

Eastern Airlines is permitted use of the airfield and begins service from RDU to New York and Miami in 1943. These flights stop in Richmond, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia during the four-hour flight to New York. Stops were made in Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, Orlando, Vero Beach and West Palm during the six-hour flight to Miami.

In 1946, 1,223 acres of land acquired and used by the federal government during WWII at Raleigh-Durham Airport is formally returned to the four local governmental units. An initial investment by RDU of $65,000 is now worth $2,225,000.

Capital Airlines, later renamed United, begins service at RDU in 1947.

Piedmont Airlines, later to become US Airways, begins service in 1948 at RDU bringing the total daily flights to 22.

RDU’s first terminal opens in 1955.

Photo of RDU in 1975

Eastern Airlines brings the commercial jet age to RDU with Boeing 727 jet service in 1965.

In 1970, Delta Air Lines becomes the fourth carrier to serve RDU.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signs the Airline Deregulation Act.

Allegheny Airlines, later to become US Airways, begins service at RDU in 1979, now five carriers serve RDU.

Photo of the air traffic control tower in 1987

1980’s Terminal A opens to great fanfare in 1982.

Trans World Airlines begins service in 1984 as the sixth carrier to serve RDU passengers.

American Airlines begins service in 1985 as RDU’s seventh carrier.

RDU opens the 10,000 foot runway 5L-23R in 1986.

The current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Control Tower opens in May 1987.

American Airlines opens its north-south hub operation at RDU in the new Terminal C in June 1987, greatly increasing the size of RDU’s operations with a new terminal including a new apron and runway. American brought RDU its first international flights to Bermuda, Cancun and Paris-Orly.

American Airlines begins service from RDU to London-Gatwick in 1994.

Midway Airlines begins service at RDU and relocates its corporate headquarters to the Research Triangle Region in March 1995.

ValuJet, later to become AirTran Airways, begins service at RDU in 1995 as the eighth carrier at RDU.

Continental Airlines also begins service in 1995 bringing the number of major carriers to nine.

In 1996, American Airlines ceases hub operations at RDU due to difficulty competing with USAir’s hub in Charlotte and Delta’s hub in Atlanta. American begins downsizing its RDU operations and eventually discontinues almost all of its mainline flights here, although it still runs a daily service to London-Gatwick and a number of commuter flights through American Eagle.

RDU’s first international carrier, Air Canada, introduces service to Toronto in 1996.

Canadian Regional begins service to Toronto in 1997.

MetroJet, a subsidiary of US Airways, begins service at RDU in 1999.

RDU opens Park and Ride 4 in 1999 on a permanent basis to accommodate the growing number of RDU travelers. RDU invests $3.5 million in paving, lighting, curb and gutter and bus shelter improvements.

The nation’s largest low-fare carrier, Southwest Airlines, starts service at RDU with 12 daily departures to five destinations in 1999.

Photo of the icon sculpture at RDU


In February 2000, RDU ranks as the nation’s second fastest growing major airport in the U.S. by Airports Council International. Passenger growth hits 24 percent over the previous year, putting RDU second only to Washington-Dulles International Airport.

In the first half of 2000, RDU opens a new $40 million terminal area parking garage, providing customers a total of 2,700 new parking spaces between the terminals.

The capacity of Park and Ride 3 doubles from 2,000 to 4,000 spaces. New spaces open in time for the 2000 winter holiday travel season.

An underground pedestrian walkway connecting the new parking garage to Terminal A opens just in time for the busy winter travel season of 2000.

In 2001, RDU opens the Terminal A south concourse for use by Northwest and Continental Airlines. The addition adds 46,000 square feet and five aircraft gates to the terminal.

America West begins service at RDU with flights to Phoenix and Las Vegas in 2002.

RDU celebrates an expanded concessions program in 2002 with the grand opening of The Shops of RDU Landing, offering passengers 35 new restaurants and retail outlets.

The Transportation Security Administration federalizes all checkpoints at RDU in 2002.

In 2003, RDU installs its first permanent work of art, a tile mural depicting North Carolina’s ecosystems. The artwork is located in the underground pedestrian walkway connecting the parking garage with Terminal A.

RDU launches RDU Airport Taxi Service, featuring a new fleet of vehicles and on-demand service to and from the airport in 2003.

RDU celebrates the centennial of flight in 2003 with the dedication of the Triangle Icon. The sculpture is a joint project of the cities of Durham and Raleigh, the counties of Durham and Wake and the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. RDU was chosen as the ideal location for the sculpture since over the years it has become a gateway to the region. The Triangle Icon is located near the terminal area parking entry plaza.

In 2003, RDU also dedicates the new General Aviation Terminal. The GA terminal is the focal point of RDU’s newly redeveloped general aviation complex. The facility features a restaurant with an observation area, pilot’s lounge, conference rooms and information and business services.

The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority votes to renovate Terminal C in 2003.

Independence Air begins service at RDU in 2004.

RDU opens North Carolina’s first airport-based USO in 2004. The 1,500 square foot facility is located in Terminal A.

In 2004, RDU begins the Terminal C expansion and renovation project.

Photo of Terminal 2 construction

RDU becomes a Wi-Fi hotspot in 2005, offering high-speed wireless Internet service in both terminals.

In 2005, RDU begins non-stop service to Salt Lake City.

Non-stop service to Los Angeles is added in early 2006 by Delta Air Lines.

Groundbreaking on the new terminal project takes place in early 2006. The project opens in phases between 2008 and 2011.

Also in the spring of 2006, Jet Blue begins service at RDU. The airline is known as a great low-cost carrier with high-end amenities.

The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority approves plans to completely redevelop Terminal C into a new terminal in late 2006. The original design had been to only replace the north concourse of Terminal C. The new plan includes demolishing and rebuilding the entire Terminal C to make way for a new terminal.

RDU begins non-stop service to Denver in early 2007.

ExpressJet Airlines starts service at RDU in 2007.

In 2007, RDU also welcomes the arrival of Midwest Connect offering non-stop service to Milwaukee.

United Airlines returns to RDU in September 2007. The airline had been offering flights, as United Express, to Washington-Dulles and Chicago-O’Hare.

American Airlines switches its daily nonstop flight to London from Gatwick to Heathrow Airport in March 2008, improving the number of one-stop connections from RDU to locations across the world.

Terminal 2, RDU’s first new passenger facility in more than 20 years, opens on Oct. 26, 2008. The first phase of the 550,000 square foot facility initially is home to Air Canada, American, American Eagle, Charter Express, Delta and United airlines.

On the same day Terminal 2 opens, the Airport Authority renames Terminal A to Terminal 1. The renaming of the airport’s terminals brings RDU in line with international airport naming standards.

Construction on Phase II of Terminal 2 begins in November 2008.

In March 2009, Northwest Airlines moves from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 to join Delta Air Lines as the two carriers officially merge operations at RDU as part of Delta’s purchase of Northwest in 2008.

Photo of Terminal 2 curbside

On January 24, 2011, the second phase of Terminal 2 officially opens with 15 more shops and restaurants. US Airways and Continental Airlines also begin operating in the new section of the terminal.

In May 2011, JetBlue Airways moves to Terminal 2, while AirTran Airways moves to the ticket counter next to Southwest Airlines as the two prepare to merge their operations.

A $68 million modernization project in Terminal 1 begins in July.

On August 15, 2012 non-stop flights to San Francisco begin via United Airlines, opening a much sought-after gateway to the West Coast and Asia.

New Wi-Fi options, including a free offering, begin in September.

On April 13, 2014, Terminal 1 reopened following a major modernization project.