In a decade, RDU International has nearly doubled the number of daily flights. That’s impressive. But to experience that growth first-hand drives home the impact far more than just reading the numbers.

For those who call the Triangle home and have seen this region transform from a very pleasant but sleepy backwater into a thriving tech-dominated metropolis over the past three decades, the transformation is perhaps captured best by the hub that RDU has become. A West-to-East Coast flight experience certainly drove that point home to The Skinny, a Triangle resident since 1986.

Unfortunately, many of the leaders who helped put the Research Triangle Park on a new surge of economic growth post-2008 “Great Recession” have retired or moved on to other jobs. But their legacy remains – one example being a near-capacity flight from Los Angeles to RDU International – on a Sunday night!

The Skinny seldom flies anywhere anymore, especially in the time-consuming days of post-911 inspections. But millions of other people still crowd the airlines, and the Triangle is a major beneficiary. More airlines. More flights. Many more nonstops.

A return from a trip to San Diego to watch the Skinny’s nephew graduated from the U.S. Marine Corps basic training included a Sunday flight direct to RDU from Los Angeles. And the Boeing 737-900 was nearly jammed with 200 people.

Sunday night. Nearly packed. Wow. Stunned was the word.

Especially meaningful to the Triangle’s booming tech industry are the increasing number of non-stop flights to the West Coast (and going to Europe). In fact, on Monday Delta announced more flights to Nashville. Not a long haul, but a sign of RDU’s recovery from that recession as well as the loss of the American Airlines hub years ago.

Record numbers

As Sunday’s flight indicated, travel into and out of RDU is at record levels.

“Say what? You read it right. More customers than ever chose RDU to start their vacation or business trip in 2016. All in, 11,049,143 people traveled through RDU, passing the 11-million passenger mark for the first time in the airport’s history.”

So RDU announced just a month ago.

It’s hard to believe that John Brantley retired as RDU’s top executive in 2011. Michael Landguth has led since then, helping finish up the Terminal 2 upfit (impressive site!) and leading a charge for more flights as Brantley did before him.

But the airport leadership did not succeed in making RDU a truly international gateway (again) alone.

People such as former Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce CEO Harvey Schmitt, Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s former CEO Joan Siefert Rose, former Research Triangle Regional Partnership leader Charles Hayes, ex-Research Triangle Foundation CEO Bob Geolas, ex-Durham Chamber CEO Casey Steinbacher deserve to be remembered for their roles in helping shape RTP post-2009 recession.

And there are many more – to many to name – from government to corporate execs who invested in time and money to upgrade RDU into a first-class destination from coach.

Non-stop reach

Check out this map as proof of just how far RDU has come.

“Fly to 47 nonstop destinations on one of about 400 daily flights from RDU,” RDU notes.


So how much as RDU grown in the past decade?

Here are the numbers from a December 2008 press release:

“Currently, airlines offer nearly 200 daily departures to 36 destinations.”

The new “Vision 2040 Master Plan” spells out objectives for the next 22 years.

If those years include the achievements made over the past decade, watch out!

Here’s a tip of The Skinny’s cap to all those people who have worked so hard to guide the Triangle from recession to rebirth to a new burst of growth.

And when you head to RDU for your next flight, be sure to say “Thanks” to the many people who have made your travel to the world beyond much more convenient.