FAA Allows RDU to Proceed with Runway Replacement
More than 300,000 passengers flew through RDU in January of 2021, a 70% decrease over January 2020. The average number of departures was 95, down from 205 in January of last year. Despite the downturn in air travel, RDU continues to attract new nonstop flights. Delta launched service to Austin (AUS) and Jacksonville (JAX) in February. Also this month, JetBlue launched service to Austin (AUS), Jacksonville (JAX), Orlando (MCO), Tampa (TPA) and Newark (EWR). Sun Country will become the 11th airline serving RDU when it launches nonstop service to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) in May.
“Although we continue to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on air travel, airlines are still investing in the Research Triangle region,” said Michael Landguth, president & CEO of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority. “We are optimistic that traffic will pick up this year as distribution of the vaccine becomes more widespread and passenger confidence in flying is restored.”
Runway Replacement Process Approved: The FAA has authorized the Airport Authority to move forward with the environmental analysis process necessary to replace its aging primary runway, 5L/23R. The FAA previously indicated an Environmental Impact Statement would need to be prepared, led by the FAA. They will now allow the Authority to proceed with preparing an Environmental Assessment with oversight from the FAA.
The FAA’s decision was based on a change in the scope of several capital projects at the airport. Many projects have been deferred due to the pandemic-related downturn in air travel and subsequent budget cuts, including construction on the terminals, the expansion of Economy 3 parking, the addition of new gates in Terminal 1 and expansion of the Federal Inspection Station.
The scope of the runway project itself has also been narrowed. The Authority’s initial plan included extending the existing 10,000 foot runway to 11,500 feet to accommodate nonstop flights to Asia. There is no longer an immediate need for the longer runway because of the sharp decline in air travel. The Authority will preserve the option for a future extension after it replaces the runway at 10,000 feet.
The Authority has been replacing runway slabs as part of an emergency preservation project. Though still safe for flying, 5L/232R was built in the 1980’s and needs to be completely replaced. The FAA’s notification to RDU marks the kickoff of a multi-year project that has been years in the making. There are many variables involved, but the Environmental Assessment is expected to take up to 18 months, followed by at least three years of construction on the new runway and another three years to reconstruct the existing runway into the new Taxiway B.
The Authority is committed to broad public participation throughout the environmental process and will release more information as the project gets underway.
Harvard Report: Harvard’s School of Public Health has released Phase Two of their report assessing the risk of COVID-19 transmission during time spent in airports. The report finds that multi-layered health and safety practices significantly reduce the risk of viral transmission in an airport setting. Examples of health and safety practices that contribute to risk reduction include face mask requirements, hand-hygiene, increased disinfection and cleaning protocols, physical distancing and air ventilation.
Harvard concluded that airports have been proactive in implementing measures to combat the pandemic and those measures significantly reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. RDU already adopted a layered approach to keep guests and workers safe at the airport. Protocols include disinfecting frequently touched surfaces; requiring that masks be worn by everyone at the airport; installing physical barriers at ticket and checkout counters, guest services and security checkpoints; and practicing social distancing.
RDU will continue to review its protocols to ensure they adhere to the latest public health guidance. The Authority is committed to protecting the health and safety of everyone at the airport.
TSA Mask Requirement: The TSA issued a new security directive that requires airports to ensure that everyone wear a mask at all times in or on airport property. Refusing to wear a mask on airport property is a violation of federal law and state executive order and may result in removal or denial of re-entry to airport facilities, as well as penalties under federal and state law. You can find more information on the security directive on RDU’s Fly Confident webpage.