Raleigh–Durham International Airport

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Raleigh–Durham International Airport
Raleigh–Durham International Airport Logo.jpg
Raleigh Durham International airport satellite view.png
Airport type Public
Owner/Operator Raleigh–Durham Airport Authority
Serves The Research Triangle Metropolitan Region of North Carolina
Location Cedar Fork Township, Wake County, North Carolina, U.S.
Focus city for Delta Air Lines[1]
Elevation AMSL 435 ft / 133 m
Coordinates 35°52′40″N 078°47′15″W / 35.87778°N 78.78750°W / 35.87778; -78.78750
Website rdu.com
RDU is located in North Carolina
RDU is located in the US
Location of airport in North Carolina/United States
Direction Length Surface
ft m
5L/23R 10,000 3,048 Concrete
5R/23L 7,500 2,286 Asphalt
14/32 3,570 1,088 Asphalt
Statistics (2017)
Passenger movements 11,653,086
Aircraft movements 199,828

Raleigh–Durham International Airport (IATA: RDUICAO: KRDUFAA LID: RDU) is the main airport serving Raleigh, Durham, and the surrounding Research Triangle region of North Carolina. It is located 4 12 miles (7.2 km) northeast of the town of Morrisville in Wake County. The airport covers 5,000 acres (2,023 ha) and has three runways.[3] The airport has passenger service to 50 destinations with 400 average daily departures, including nonstop intercontinental service to London and Paris.[4] In 2017, RDU beat its all time record set in 2016, with 11,600,000 passengers traveling through the airport.[5] The RDU Airport Authority is in charge of the airport facilities and its operations and is controlled by a board of representatives from the counties of Wake and Durham and the cities of Raleigh and Durham.[6] The airport is a focus city for Delta Air Lines and is also a crew base for regional carriers Trans States Airlines and GoJet Airlines.



Early photo of Raleigh–Durham Airport

The region's first airport opened in 1929 as Raleigh's Municipal Airport, south of town at 35°44′06″N 78°39′22″W / 35.735°N 78.656°W / 35.735; -78.656. It was quickly outgrown, and in 1939 the North Carolina General Assembly chartered the Raleigh–Durham Aeronautical Authority to build and operate a larger airport between Raleigh and Durham. This was promoted by Eastern Air Lines, led by then chairman Eddie Rickenbacker who wanted to make RDU a stop on the airline's New York–Miami route.

The new Raleigh–Durham Airport opened on May 1, 1943 with flights by Eastern Airlines. The passenger terminal was built from materials remaining after the construction of four barracks for the Army Air Forces Air Technical Service Command airfield.[7] The three runways the airport had in 1951 are still visible on the southeast side of the airport: 4500-ft runway 5, 4500-ft runway 18 and 4490-ft runway 14.

After World War II Capital Airlines joined Eastern at RDU; Piedmont Airlines arrived in 1948. The April 1957 Official Airline Guide shows 36 departures a day: twenty Eastern, eight Capital and eight Piedmont. Nonstop flights did not reach beyond Washington, Atlanta, or the Appalachians (but Eastern started a Super Constellation nonstop to Newark in 1958). The next airline (aside from United's takeover of Capital in 1961) was Delta Air Lines in 1970. In April 1969 nonstops didn't reach beyond New York or Atlanta, and Chicago was the only nonstop west of the Appalachians.

In the 1970s, the last decade before airline deregulation, Piedmont connected RDU to Charlotte, Greensboro, New Bern, Norfolk, Richmond, Rocky Mount, Washington, Wilmington and Winston-Salem.[8] United flew to Asheville, Charlotte, Huntsville and Newark,[9] while Eastern flew to Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond and Washington,[10] and Delta flew to Chicago and Greensboro.[11]

After deregulation Allegheny Airlines arrived in 1979 and by 1985 Trans World Airlines, American Airlines, Ozark, People Express, New York Air and Pan Am had all put in appearances.

Hub years[edit]

American Airlines built a terminal at RDU between 1985 and 1987 to house a new hub operation, and flew to 38 cities when the hub started in June 1987.[12] The December 1987 timetable shows AA nonstops to 36 airports and Eagle prop nonstops to 18 more. In addition to flying nonstop to many cities in the U.S. and Canada, American also operated transatlantic flights from RDU to London and Paris.[13] The RDU hub operated at a loss even during its heyday in the early 1990s, like the similar north–south hub AA then had at Nashville.[14]

The hub's traffic peaked in 1991. Although the Raleigh–Durham area had growing local traffic, the connecting hub faced competition from Delta and Eastern in Atlanta and from USAir in Charlotte, as well as the short-lived Continental Airlines hub in Greensboro that opened in 1993. American began to consider closing the hub in late 1993; operations were reduced until June 1995 when American closed the hub.[15]

Midway Airlines replaced AA as the airport's hub carrier from 1995 until 2003.[16] In 1995, Midway had flights to Boston, Hartford, Long Island, Newark, Newburgh, New York, Philadelphia and Washington in the Northeast, and to Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach in Florida.[17] American subleased its gates at RDU to Midway in order to repay $113 million in American-guaranteed bonds which had been used to construct the hub facilities.[18] Midway suspended service for some time after the September 11, 2001 attacks, ceased operations in 2002 and filed for bankruptcy in 2003.

An American Airlines Boeing 777-200 from London–Gatwick landing at RDU in 2005

American Airlines retained the daily nonstop flight from RDU to London, originally launched to Gatwick Airport in May 1994 with a Boeing 767-200ER. On March 29, 2008, American shifted the RDU-London flight to Heathrow Airport. The RDU-London flight uses two-class Boeing 777-200ERs.[19]

Post-hub years[edit]

RDU's post-hub years have brought the addition of several new carriers (notably Southwest Airlines and new destinations). Because of the economic downturn and high fuel prices in 2008, American ended the flights to Jacksonville, Kansas City, Newark and Louisville. Mainline flights to Austin, Columbus–Glenn, New York–La Guardia and St. Louis were also dropped and service to other cities was reduced or downgraded. Other airlines cut flights and destinations also, including United's service to Denver, US Airways' services to Las Vegas and Phoenix–Sky Harbor. ExpressJet ended its independent flights to Kansas City and New Orleans (ExpressJet now only operates as United Express and Delta Connection). In 2008 RDU lost over 30 flights from the March 2008 schedule.

In 2010 RDU's traffic began to recover. In the first few months of the year passenger numbers stabilized at RDU, ending the decrease in 2008/2009. In the first four months of 2010, 2.7 million passengers traveled through RDU.[20] Growth was flat, compared to the same period a year before, but these signs were positive, indicating that the decline was over. Also, after cutting service, carriers at RDU began to add (or re-add) new service to the schedule. In April 2010 Midwest Airlines resumed service from RDU, adding service to Milwaukee.[21] This route ended when Midwest was acquired by Frontier Airlines. Southwest Airlines, which began service to RDU in June 1999,[22] had also aggressively expanded at RDU, adding service to St. Louis in May, and replacing American Airlines as the largest carrier at RDU.[23][24] JetBlue Airways also increased service to Boston in May 2010.[25]

Delta Air Lines has increased operations since 2010, with resumed nonstop service to Los Angeles in June 2010,[26] followed by new nonstop service to Columbus–Glenn, Fort Myers, Hartford, Miami, Orlando, Baltimore, St. Louis and Tampa, and additional frequencies to Boston, Minneapolis–St. Paul and New York–JFK, in November 2010, and new services to Albany (NY) and Providence in April 2011. Some of these services have since ended.

The Inaugural Flight of Delta Air Lines' service from Raleigh–Durham to Paris

In February 2011 Continental Airlines commenced its first international flight from RDU, to Cancún. Delta added three daily flights to Baltimore in September 2011. In November Vision Airlines began operations at RDU and added a twice weekly flight to Freeport.[27] This service was taken over by Bahamasair in May 2012. United Airlines started the airport's first non-stop flight to San Francisco in August 2012. In December 2012 American Airlines announced the airport's first daily non-stop flight to Los Angeles, beginning in April 2013. April 2013 marked the return of Frontier Airlines with nonstop service to Trenton, New Jersey. Since then, Frontier has added non-stop service to Chicago–O'Hare, Cleveland and Denver. Allegiant Air began their first non-stop services out of RDU to Orlando/Sanford, Punta Gorda/Fort Myers and St. Petersburg/Clearwater in May 2015. In September 2015, United resumed service to Denver at twice a day using 76-seat Embraer 175 jets. In April 2015, Alaska Airlines announced RDU's first daily non-stop flight to Seattle, beginning in October 2015.

In September 2015, RDU announced the return of a transatlantic flight to Paris, which began in May 2016 and is operated by Delta. In a Triangle Business Journal Article, published on March 2, 2016, Delta explicitly referred to Raleigh–Durham as a focus city. Since then Delta has added several new flights out of Raleigh–Durham including Austin, Nashville, Newark, Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington DC, and Seattle.


Raleigh–Durham has finished most of its construction with the completion of the Terminal 1 renovation, leading the airport to have the proper infrastructure until 2040. Nevertheless, the airport still owns nearly 2000 acres of unused land around the airport that it wants to develop. Some ideas for developing that land include an airport hotel or warehouse facilities.[28] For air service, the airport is looking at several domestic destinations including Portland and San Diego for new non-stop air service.[29] With the addition of the Paris flight, Raleigh is now looking into a transpacific flight, possibly to somewhere in India, the Middle East or China where companies such as Lenovo have frequent business flights.[30][31]

The RDU Airport Authority released its' Vision 2040 Master Plan in 2017, detailing the improvements which will be made by 2040. The most major projects are the construction of a consolidated rental car facility, expansion of both terminals to add gates, improvements to the taxiway layout, and the complete rebuilding of the runways. RDU will have three parallel runways at the completion of vision 2040. Runway 5R/23L will be lengthened to 9,000 feet, runway 5L/23R will be rebuilt to 11,500 feet just northwest of its current position and named 5C/23C, and a new 8,000 foot runway 5L/23R will be built farther northwest. [32]


RDU contains two terminals and three concourses. The two terminals do not have an airside connection, passengers moving between the terminals may ride a shuttle bus or take the moving walkway through the covered parking decks between the terminals.

Terminal 1[edit]

Terminal 1

The first terminal at RDU opened in 1955. Expanded in 1972 and again in 1976,[33] the building was named Terminal B in 1982 when the then-new Terminal A opened. The two terminals were connected by a landside interior walkway. Terminal B was closed in 1989. In 1994, Terminal B lost its identity when it was renovated into an extension of Terminal A; an airside walkway was added to link all gates. In 2001 the south end of Terminal A was extended to include five temporary gates; these gates were closed in 2009, as the airlines using them moved to other gates.

Terminal A was renamed Terminal 1 on October 26, 2008 to bring RDU in line with terminal naming conventions and to end years of confusion.

After years of proposals, the 1981 part of Terminal 1 was closed in 2012 for a complete renovation.[34] During this time, Southwest and AirTran continued to operate out of the pre-1981 part of Terminal 1. The building reopened on April 13, 2014 with nine gates; Southwest and AirTran occupied the rebuilt terminal.[35] The terminal achieved LEED certification in December 2014.[36] In 2016, the pre-1981 parts of Terminal 1 and the 2001 south-end extension were demolished due to expenses and lack of practical use of these ends of the building.[37]

Southwest Airlines is currently the only airline operating out of Terminal 1; all other airlines operate out of Terminal 2.[38]

Terminal 2[edit]

Terminal 2

Terminal 2 occupies the site of the former Terminal C, built between 1985 and 1987 for the American Airlines hub. In planning the terminal, American assumed that only around 20% of passengers would originate or terminate their trips in Raleigh–Durham; rather, Terminal C was optimized for the exchange of passengers between connecting flights, with a relatively small check-in and baggage claim area. In reality, connecting passengers only accounted for around two-thirds of the terminal's passengers. After the American and Midway hubs closed, the airport faced a decision about the future of Terminal C and how to eliminate the inconveniences it imposed on local passengers.[39]

In December 2003, the Airport Authority announced plans to expand and renovate the 300,000 sq ft (28,000 m2) building, transforming it into a new 900,000 sq ft (84,000 m2) facility. In January 2006, the airport instead decided to replace the building entirely.

Terminal 2 was designed by Fentress Architects under a philosophy of contextual regionalism, related to Critical regionalism. The terminal, invoking the flowing hills and culture of North Carolina's Piedmont region,[40] consisted of two phases of construction. The first, larger Phase 1 opened on October 26, 2008 while Phase 2 opened on January 23, 2011 in time for the 2011 NHL All Star Game.[20] Terminal 2 has 36 gates; gates C21, C23, C24, and C25 are international gates and can accommodate aircraft up to the Boeing 747. The federal inspection area has 16 stations.

The terminal contains two airport lounges, an Admirals Club operated by American Airlines and a Delta Sky Club operated by Delta Air Lines.

Cargo Terminal[edit]

The airport incorporates two cargo areas, North Cargo and South Cargo. The North Cargo terminal area is used by cargo airlines. The largest cargo operators are FedEx and UPS. The South Cargo terminal area is used by commercial airlines for cargo operations.


RDU has three runways. Two parallel runways are designated 5L/23R and 5R/23L, and a cross-wind runway designated 14/32. Both parallel runways have been equipped with LED lights.

  • Runway 5L/23R: 10,000 by 150 feet (3,048 m × 46 m) (concrete)
  • Runway 5R/23L: 7,500 by 150 feet (2,286 m × 46 m) (asphalt)
  • Runway 14/32: 3,570 by 100 feet (1,088 m × 30 m) (asphalt)

Prior to the September 11 attacks in 2001, the RDU Airport Authority and Federal Aviation Administration planned a fourth runway at the airport, but with the demise of the Midway Airlines hub and the airline industry downturn following the terrorist attacks, this plan was placed on hold. During the period between May 27, 2008 and June 24, 2008, and between May 19, 2010 and June 17, 2010, runway 5R/23L was closed for renovation.[41]

Airlines and destinations[edit]


Airlines Destinations Refs
Air Canada Express Toronto–Pearson [42]
Alaska Airlines San Francisco (begins April 25, 2018),[43] Seattle/Tacoma [44]
Allegiant Air Cincinnati, New Orleans, Orlando/Sanford, Punta Gorda (FL), St. Petersburg/Clearwater
Seasonal: Fort Walton Beach (begins June 8, 2018)[45], San Juan (suspended)
American Airlines Charlotte, Chicago–O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, London–Heathrow, Los Angeles, Miami, New York–JFK, New York–LaGuardia, Philadelphia
Seasonal: Cancún
American Eagle New York–JFK, New York–LaGuardia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington–National
Seasonal: Charlotte
Delta Air Lines Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York–LaGuardia (begins October 1, 2018), Orlando, Paris–Charles de Gaulle, Salt Lake City, Seattle/Tacoma
Seasonal: Cancún, Tampa
Delta Connection Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus–Glenn, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Indianapolis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Nashville, New York–JFK, New York–LaGuardia, Newark, Philadelphia, Tampa, Washington–National
Seasonal: Fort Myers, Miami, Orlando
Frontier Airlines Austin, Las Vegas, Orlando
Seasonal: Buffalo (begins April 11, 2018), Cincinnati (begins April 9, 2018), Cleveland, Denver, Houston–Intercontinental (begins April 8, 2018), Kansas City (begins April 9, 2018), Milwaukee (begins April 8, 2018), New Orleans (begins April 12, 2018), Providence (begins April 8, 2018), San Antonio (begins April 9, 2018), San Juan (begins April 11, 2018), Trenton
JetBlue Airways Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York–JFK [50]
Southwest Airlines Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago–Midway, Dallas–Love, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston–Hobby, Kansas City (begins April 8, 2018)[51], Las Vegas, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix–Sky Harbor, St. Louis, Tampa
Seasonal: Cancún (begins June 9, 2018)[52]
United Airlines Chicago–O'Hare, Denver, Newark, San Francisco, Washington–Dulles
Seasonal: Houston–Intercontinental
United Express Chicago–O'Hare, Houston–Intercontinental, Newark, Washington–Dulles [54]
Virgin America San Francisco (ends April 24, 2018)[43] [55]


Airlines Destinations
Bankair Charlotte
Business Airfreight New Bern
FedEx Express Indianapolis, Memphis
Seasonal: Norfolk
UPS Airlines Edenton, Jacksonville (NC), Louisville, Manteo/Dare County, New Bern, Wilmington (NC)
Seasonal: Charlotte, Columbia, Greenville/Spartanburg, Norfolk, Philadelphia


Top destinations[edit]

Busiest Domestic Routes from RDU (Dec 2016 – Nov 2017)[56]
Rank Change of Rank (from Nov 2015) City Passengers Carriers  % Change (from Nov 2015)
1 Steady Georgia (U.S. state) Atlanta, Georgia 690,000 Delta, Southwest Decrease4.35
2 Steady North Carolina Charlotte, North Carolina 350,000 American Increase4.28
3 Increase7 New Jersey Newark, New Jersey 260,000 Delta, United Increase28.08
4 Increase2 New York (state) New York–La Guardia, New York 259,000 American, Delta Increase2.32
5 Steady Massachusetts Boston, Massachusetts 258,000 Delta, JetBlue Increase0.78
6 Decrease3 Illinois Chicago–O'Hare, Illinois 253,000 American, United Decrease14.62
7 Steady Maryland Baltimore, Maryland 241,000 Delta, Southwest Increase0.41
8 Decrease4 New York (state) New York–JFK, New York 236,000 American, Delta, JetBlue Decrease11.44
9 Decrease1 Texas Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas 229,000 American Increase5.24
10 Decrease1 Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 221,000 American, Delta Increase2.71
* --- All New York Airports 765,000 American, Delta, JetBlue, United ---
Busiest international routes from RDU (2016)[57]
Rank Prev Rank (2015) Airport Passengers Carriers  % Change (from 2015)
1 Steady United Kingdom London–Heathrow, United Kingdom 105,831 American Decrease5.44
2 Steady Canada Toronto–Pearson, Canada 77,531 Air Canada Increase12.62
3 Increase1 France Paris–Charles de Gaulle, France 56,187 Delta Increase100.00
4 Decrease1 Mexico Cancún, Mexico 15,352 American, Delta, Southwest (June 2018) Increase42.03
5 Steadynew Puerto Rico San Juan, Puerto Rico --- Frontier (April 2018) ---

Annual Traffic[edit]

Annual passenger traffic (enplaned + deplaned) at
RDU, 1985 through 2018[58]
Year Passengers  % Change
2018 820,260 (Jan) Increase5.10
2017 11,653,086 Increase5.60
2016 11,049,143 Increase11.12
2015 9,943,331 Increase4.17
2014 9,545,360 Increase3.90
2013 9,186,748 Decrease0.36
2012 9,220,391 Increase0.65
2011 9,161,279 Increase0.65
2010 9,101,920 Increase1.43
2009 8,973,398 Decrease7.64
2008 9,715,928 Decrease3.20
2007 10,037,424 Increase6.41
2006 9,432,925 Increase1.39
2005 9,303,904 Increase7.71
2004 8,637,606 Increase9.16
2003 7,912,547 Decrease3.99
2002 8,241,253 Decrease14.01
2001 9,584,087 Decrease8.19
2000 10,438,585 Increase16.74
1999 8,941,775 Increase23.70
1998 7,228,653 Increase7.49
1997 6,724,874 Increase4.78
1996 6,417,871 Increase8.10
1995 5,937,135 Decrease34.03
1994 8,999,491 Decrease7.18
1993 9,695,886 Decrease2.31
1992 9,925,364 Increase5.80
1991 9,381,586 Increase1.25
1990 9,265,665 Increase7.80
1989 8,594,671 Increase16.90
1988 7,352,007 Increase51.46
1987 4,854,073 Increase56.58
1986 3,100,002 Increase11.87
1985 2,771,009 Steady

Airline market share[edit]

Largest Airlines at RDU by total passengers (Jan – Dec 2017)[59]
Rank Airline Passengers Share
1 Delta Air Lines 3,590,256 30.81%
2 American Airlines 3,075,374 26.39%
3 Southwest Airlines 2,390,155 20.51%
4 United Airlines 1,486,320 12.75%
5 JetBlue 524,252 4.50%
All others combined 586,729 5.03%

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • On February 19, 1988, AVAir Flight 3378, a Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner was on a regularly scheduled flight between Raleigh and Richmond when it crashed into a reservoir about a mile from the airport, where it had departed in the vicinity of Cary, North Carolina: The aircraft departed during low ceiling, low visibility and night conditions. Analysis of radar data indicated the aircraft was in a 45-degree descending turn. Both crew members and all 10 passengers were killed. It was revealed during the investigation that the pilot had complained of illness but decided to continue the flight.
  • On December 13, 1994, American Eagle Flight 3379 operated by AMR's regional airline Flagship Airlines,[60] a Jetstream 31 was on a regularly scheduled service of Raleigh-Greensboro-Raleigh when it crashed into a wooded area about 4 miles (6.4 km) SW of the airport, in the vicinity of Morrisville, NC. Of the 20 onboard (18 passengers and 2 crewmembers) 15 were killed while the 5 survivors received serious injuries. The probable cause of the crash was the pilot not following proper procedure when it came to an engine failure situation.[61]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

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  5. ^ "RDU Passenger Statistics and Activity Reports". Raleigh–Durham Airport Authority. March 7, 2016. Retrieved March 7, 2016. 
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  7. ^ Baskas, Harriet (October 11, 2004). "Stuck at the Airport: Raleigh–Durham – Haven for Bibliophiles at RDU". Expedia.com. Retrieved September 22, 2008. 
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  36. ^ http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/news/2014/12/19/rdu-terminal-1-achieves-leed-certification.html
  37. ^ Saying Goodbye to Terminal 1 North and South, May 9, 2016, retrieved May 9, 2016 
  38. ^ Raleigh-Durham International Airport. "Terminals | Raleigh-Durham International Airport". Rdu.com. Retrieved 2018-01-03. 
  39. ^ Infanger, John F. (May 11, 2010). "The RDU Experience: Phase 2 Expansion Culminates a Decade of Defining the Needs, the Costs". Airport Business. Retrieved July 25, 2013. 
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  41. ^ "RDU Continues Runway Rehabilitation Project" (Press release). Raleigh–Durham Airport Authority. July 1, 2008. Retrieved July 1, 2008. 
  42. ^ "Flight Schedules". Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  43. ^ a b "Virgin America flights become Alaska next April". Flightglobal.com. 2017-10-05. Retrieved 2018-01-02. 
  44. ^ "Flight Timetable". Retrieved 29 January 2017. 
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  61. ^ American Eagle Flight 3379 NTSB Brief Report[dead link]

External links[edit]