Raleigh–Durham International Airport

Raleigh–Durham International Airport (IATA: RDU, ICAO: KRDU, FAA LID: RDU), locally known by its IATA code RDU, is the main airport serving Raleigh, Durham, and the surrounding Research Triangle region of North Carolina. It is located in unincorporated Wake County, but is surrounded by the City of Raleigh to the North and East, and the towns of Cary and Morrisville to the South. The airport covers 5,000 acres (2,000 ha; 20 km2) and has three runways.[4]

Raleigh–Durham International Airport
Raleigh–Durham International Airport Logo.jpg
Raleigh Durham International airport satellite view.png
Airport typePublic
Owner/OperatorRaleigh–Durham Airport Authority
ServesThe Research Triangle Metropolitan Region of North Carolina
LocationCedar Fork Township, Wake County, North Carolina, U.S.
Focus city for
Elevation AMSL435 ft / 133 m
Coordinates35°52′40″N 078°47′15″W / 35.87778°N 78.78750°W / 35.87778; -78.78750
RDU is located in North Carolina
Location of airport in North Carolina/United States
RDU is located in the United States
RDU (the 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 (2019)
Passenger movements14,218,621
Aircraft movements221,626

The airport is a focus city for Delta Air Lines and Frontier Airlines. RDU has passenger service to 68 cities with over 450 average daily departures.[5] The RDU Airport Authority is in charge of the airport facilities and operations and is controlled by a board of representatives from the counties of Wake and Durham and the cities of Raleigh and Durham.[6]



Early view 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. RDU's first scheduled jets were Eastern 727s in 1965.

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 yearsEdit

American built a terminal at RDU between 1985 and 1987 to house a new hub, 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. American later flew to London and Paris.[13] The RDU hub operated at a loss even during its heyday in the early 1990s, like the hub AA then had at Nashville.[14] American's December 1992 timetable, around the time of the hub's peak, showed 211 daily departures to 64 destinations, almost all in the eastern United States (the westernmost destinations being American's hubs at Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago–O'Hare).[15]

The hub faced intense competition from Delta and Eastern in Atlanta and from USAir in Charlotte, as well as the short-lived Continental hub in Greensboro that opened in 1993.[16] American began to consider closing the hub in late 1993; operations were reduced until June 1995 when American closed the hub.[15][16] Nonetheless, it retained the daily nonstop flight to London, which continues to operate to this day.[17][18]

Midway Airlines replaced AA as the airport's hub carrier from 1995 until 2003.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] Midway suspended service for some time after the September 11, 2001, attacks, ceased operations in 2002 and filed for bankruptcy in 2003.

Recent historyEdit

RDU has been a hub for two airlines, and can handle wide-body aircraft

RDU's post-hub years have brought the addition of new carriers and destinations, notably discount carriers such as Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air. Because of the economic downturn and high fuel prices in 2008, American ended most point to point flights it operated out of the airport. Several mainline flights were also dropped and service to other cities was reduced or downgraded. Other airlines also cut flights and destinations, including United Airlines and US Airways.

By 2010, RDU's traffic began to recover. In the first few months of the year, passenger numbers stabilized at RDU, ending the decrease the airport experienced in 2008 and 2009. In the first four months of 2010, 2.7 million passengers traveled through RDU.[22] Growth was flat, compared to the same period a year before, but these signs were positive, indicating that the decline was over. Airlines at RDU began to add new service to the schedule, with both legacy and low cost carriers significantly increasing service since the early 2010s.

Inaugural Delta flight from Raleigh–Durham to Paris

Recently, Delta Air Lines has been building up operations and has declared RDU to be a focus city.[23] Delta is now the largest carrier at RDU and operates 80 flights, including a transatlantic flight to Paris, which began in May 2016.[24]


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 that it wants to develop. Some ideas for developing that land include an airport hotel, quarry, or warehouse facilities.[25] For air service, the airport is looking at several domestic destinations including Portland and San Diego for new non-stop air service.[26] With the addition of the Paris flight, Raleigh is now looking into a transpacific flight to China, where companies such as Lenovo (which has headquarters in both Beijing and Morrisville) have frequent business flights.[27]

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 and an on-site hotel, expansion of parking lots, expansion of both terminals to add gates, improvements to the taxiway layout, and the complete rebuilding of the runways. Runway 5R/23L will be lengthened to 9,000 feet, and runway 5L/23R will be rebuilt to 11,500 feet just northwest of its current position. The existing runway 5L/23R will become a taxiway.[28]



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

Terminal 1 occupies the site of the airport's original terminal, which opened in 1955. Expanded in 1972 and again in 1976, the building was named Terminal B in 1982 when the then-new Terminal A opened.[29] 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 1998, a north concourse expansion was built that was attached to the former Terminal B. 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 1982 part of Terminal 1 was closed in 2012 for a complete renovation.[30] During this time, Southwest and AirTran Airways continued to operate out of the pre-1982 sections and the 1998 north concourse of Terminal 1. The building reopened on April 13, 2014 with nine gates; Southwest and AirTran Airways occupied the rebuilt terminal.[31] The terminal achieved LEED certification in December 2014.[32] In 2016, the pre-1982 parts of Terminal 1, 1998 north concourse, and the 2001 south-end extension were demolished due to expenses and lack of practical use of these ends of the building.[33]

As of April 2018, Southwest is the only airline at Terminal 1 (except for Cancun arrivals, due to the lack of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Terminal 1). All other airlines operate out of Terminal 2.[34] Southwest currently uses Gates A5-A9. On April 1, 2020, the airport planned to activate Gates A1-A4, which would see Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines moving to Terminal 1 due to lack of room for immediate expansion in Terminal 2; however, this was postponed due to a sharp drop in airport traffic amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontier Airlines will eventually move to Terminal 1 when the RDU Airport Authority is satisfied that there will be enough ticketing space for all three new tenants.[35]

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.[36]

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,[37] consisted of two phases of construction. The first, larger Phase 1, which consisted of the construction of Concourse C, a ticketing level, and a baggage claim level, opened on October 26, 2008, while Phase 2, which consisted of the construction of Concourse D, opened on January 23, 2011, in time for the 2011 NHL All Star Game.[22] Terminal 2 has 36 gates, four of which are international gates that can accommodate aircraft up to the Boeing 747. The federal inspection area has 16 stations. As of September 2019, Terminal 2 is used by Alaska, Allegiant, Air Canada Express, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit, and United. The terminal contains three airport lounges - an Admirals Club operated by American, a Delta Sky Club operated by Delta, and a United Club operated by United.

Cargo TerminalEdit

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 crosswind runway is designated 14/32. Both parallel runways have been equipped with LED lights.

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

Before the September 11 attacks in 2001, the RDU Airport Authority and Federal Aviation Administration planned a fourth runway, but with the demise of the Midway Airlines hub and the airline industry downturn following the attacks, this plan was placed on hold. Between May 27, 2008, and June 24, 2008, and between May 19, 2010, and June 17, 2010, runway 5R/23L was closed for renovation.[38]

Airlines and destinationsEdit


Air Canada Express Montréal–Trudeau, Toronto–Pearson [39]
Alaska Airlines Seattle/Tacoma [40]
Allegiant Air New Orleans, Orlando/Sanford, Punta Gorda (FL), St. Petersburg/Clearwater
Seasonal: San Juan
American Airlines Charlotte, Chicago–O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, London–Heathrow, Los Angeles, Miami, New York–LaGuardia, Philadelphia, Phoenix–Sky Harbor, Washington–National
Seasonal: Cancún (begins December 19, 2020),[42]
American Eagle Boston, Chicago–O'Hare, New York–JFK, New York–LaGuardia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington–National [43]
Delta Air Lines Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York–JFK, Orlando, Paris–Charles de Gaulle, Salt Lake City, Seattle/Tacoma
Seasonal: Cancún, Las Vegas, New York–LaGuardia
Delta Connection Austin, Baltimore, Chicago–O'Hare, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus–Glenn, Hartford, Indianapolis, Miami, Nashville, Newark, New York–JFK, New York–LaGuardia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Washington–National [44]
Frontier Airlines Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, Newark, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Juan, Trenton
Seasonal: Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Hartford, Houston–Intercontinental, Long Island/Islip, New Orleans, Portland (ME), Syracuse
JetBlue Boston, Cancún (begins November 19, 2020),[46] Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers (begins November 19, 2020),[46] Los Angeles (begins December 18, 2020),[46] Montego Bay (begins November 19, 2020),[46] New York–JFK, San Juan (begins November 19, 2020)[46] [47]
Southwest Airlines Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago–Midway, Dallas–Love, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston–Hobby, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix–Sky Harbor, St. Louis, Tampa
Seasonal: Austin
Spirit Airlines Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, Orlando
Seasonal: Chicago–O'Hare, Detroit
United Airlines Chicago–O'Hare, Denver, Houston–Intercontinental, Newark, San Francisco, Washington–Dulles [50]
United Express Chicago–O'Hare, Houston–Intercontinental, Newark, Washington–Dulles [50]


FedEx Express Indianapolis, Memphis, New Bern, Wilmington (NC)
Seasonal: Newark, Norfolk
UPS Airlines Edenton, Jacksonville (NC), Louisville, Manteo/Dare County, New Bern, Ontario, Philadelphia, Wilmington (NC)
Seasonal: Charlotte, Columbia, Greenville/Spartanburg, Miami, Norfolk, Orlando


Top Domestic destinationsEdit

Busiest Domestic Routes from RDU (August 2019 – July 2020)[52]
Rank City Passengers Carriers
1 Atlanta, Georgia 491,000 Delta, Frontier, Southwest
2 Charlotte, North Carolina 287,000 American
3 Chicago–O'Hare, Illinois 249,000 American, Delta, Spirit, United
4 Boston, Massachusetts 223,000 American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Spirit
5 Orlando, Florida 205,000 Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit
6 Baltimore, Maryland 191,000 Delta, Southwest, Spirit
7 Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas 184,000 American
8 New York–LaGuardia, New York 176,000 American, Delta, JetBlue
9 Denver, Colorado 174,000 Frontier, Southwest, United
10 Newark, New Jersey 171,000 Delta, Frontier, United

Raleigh-Durham International Airport is a Class C airport.

Top International DestinationsEdit

Busiest International Routes (2019)[53][54]
Rank City Passengers Carriers
1 London-Heathrow, United Kingdom 143,348 American
2 Paris-Charles de Gaulle, France 111,756 Delta
3 Toronto-Pearson, Canada 70,519 Air Canada
4 Cancun, Mexico 24,197 American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest
5 Montreal-Trudeau, Canada 13,760 Air Canada
6 Punta Cana, Dominican Republic 8,757 Frontier
7 Montego Bay, Jamaica 5,377 Frontier

Airline market shareEdit

Largest Airlines at RDU by total passengers (2019)[55]
Rank Airline Passengers Share
1 Delta Air Lines 4,367,001 30.71%
2 American Airlines 3,253,368 22.88%
3 Southwest Airlines 2,605,681 18.33%
4 United Airlines 1,657,311 11.66%
5 Frontier Airlines 991,149 6.97%

Annual TrafficEdit

Annual passenger traffic (enplaned + deplaned) at RDU[56]
Year Passengers Year Passengers Year Passengers Year Passengers
1985 2,771,009 1995 5,937,135 2005 9,303,904 2015 9,943,331
1986 3,100,002 1996 6,417,871 2006 9,432,925 2016 11,049,143
1987 4,854,073 1997 6,724,874 2007 10,037,424 2017 11,653,693
1988 7,352,007 1998 7,228,653 2008 9,715,928 2018 12,801,697
1989 8,594,671 1999 8,941,775 2009 8,973,398 2019 14,218,621
1990 9,265,665 2000 10,438,585 2010 9,101,920 2020 3,492,285 (AUG)
1991 9,381,586 2001 9,584,087 2011 9,161,279 2021
1992 9,925,364 2002 8,241,253 2012 9,220,391 2022
1993 9,695,886 2003 7,912,547 2013 9,186,748 2023
1994 8,999,491 2004 8,637,606 2014 9,545,360 2024

Accidents and incidentsEdit

  • On January 2, 1953, a USAF Douglas C-47 crashed near RDU attempting to land with rain and low visibility after diverting from Pope AFB in Fayetteville. The aircraft crashed nearly two miles south of the airport in Crabtree Park, three out of the four occupants died.[57]
  • On Wednesday, November 12, 1975, Eastern Air Lines flight 576, a Boeing 727-225, crashed while attempting to land on runway 23 (now runway 23 Left). The aircraft hit the ground 282 feet short of the runway and bounced back into the air before coming down on the runway and sliding 4,150 feet down the runway, stopping where the south end of Terminal 1 is today. Of the 139 persons on the flight, eight were injured, one seriously. The NTSB investigation initially blamed the crash on "the pilot's failure to execute a missed approach when he lost sight of the runway environment in heavy rain below decision height." The accident report and probable cause were later revised to include the influence of undetected wind shear.[58] The aircraft (Boeing 727-225, N8838E) sustained major damage and was moved to an area on the north end of closed runway 18. A temporary structure was built around the aircraft which was eventually repaired and returned to service.
  • 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: 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,[59] 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. Of the 20 onboard (18 passengers and two crewmembers) 15 were killed while the five 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.[60]
  • On July 31, 2000, a Win Win Aviation de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter crashed on approach nearly two miles SSW of RDU on a positioning flight due to fog and darkness. The pilot was not instrument rated to fly in bad weather. One crewmember out of the three occupants died.[61]
  • On October 20, 2019, a Piper PA-32 crashed in a wooded area of Umstead State Park on approach to runway 32. Both occupants of the plane died.[62]

See alsoEdit


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

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External linksEdit