Although airlines serving European airports have worked with common-use passenger handling systems for decades, US carriers have resisted the technology and US airports have been reluctant to impose it on them. Gradually this is changing. Raleigh-Durham International will build the system into its new Terminal C, making it the first airport in North Carolina to adopt it.
Serving the Research Triangle area of the state, RDU's traffic is growing at a healthy 4%-5% annual rate. Airport Director John C. Brantley thinks this year's passenger total will be close to 10 million after reaching 9.4 million in 2005. The airport's record, set in 2000, was 10.4 million. Only 4%-5% of passengers transfer there.
The 5,000-acre property accommodates a pair of parallel runways 7,500 ft. and 10,000 ft. long and a 3,550-ft. crosswind runway. There are two cargo areas with spacious facilities and two FBOs offering general aviation services including private sleeping rooms and a full-service restaurant in an airport-owned building, finished last year and so attractive that it has been rented for social events, including a wedding.
There is enough landand protective zoning in placefor a third parallel, but Brantley doesn't see a need for it in the near future. Taxiways recently have been improved and there is no airfield congestion, he notes.
RDU's parallel runways bracket two terminals, which in turn bracket a multisection parking garage. Terminal A, opened in 1982 and extended twice, has 23 gates and 296,000 sq. ft. Terminal C went into service in 1987 and has 13 gates in 352,300 sq. ft. The new $430 million Terminal C will nearly triple the size of the existing facility to more than 900,000 sq. ft. and have 32-35 gates, including three in an international section with a new FIS. Its north concourse will be 1,300 ft. long, 600 ft. longer than the old section it replaces. Two of its gates will be able to accommodate widebodies but not A380s. "There's no reason for us to plan for the 380," Brantley believes. "Even the 747 is bigger than this market needs."
Terminal C was designed for the hub that American Airlines started there in June 1987. "We expected 80% connections there so the concourse had plenty of gates but a very small central terminal," Brantley explains. Then American changed its mind about the Raleigh hub and "started pulling it down in June of 1994. The hub was completely gone by June of 1995," although AA still serves RDU.
Midway Airlines was next to try hubbing at Raleigh, beginning in March 1995. That lasted a few years, then Midway "wound down" and finally stopped operating as an independent airline and flew US Airways Express trips for about a year, then shut down entirely. After Midway moved out, US Airways became the airport's largest airline for a time. Americanincluding American Eagle flightshas regained No. 1 ranking, with Delta Air Lines and its feeders No. 2, Southwest Airlines No. 3 and US Airways and its Regional affiliates No. 4.
Besides American and Eagle, Terminal C houses United Express and Air Canada. With most of its traffic O&D, the facility has become "our Achilles Heel," with "substantial congestion in the main terminal and the terminal-concourse connector," Brantley says.
The airport authority gave American a 40-year lease on the entire building plus some support facilities when it moved into Terminal C in 1987. Ten years later this lease had become a burden to AA. "They had retrenched, and they were a landlord for Midway. This wasn't paying their bills," Brantley recalls. So American suggested that the airport buy out the lease. The deal was concluded in late 2001 and AA got a new 15-year lease for the part of the facility it actually was using at that time. All other airlines at RDU operate on a month-to-month basis. Once it had control of Terminal C, the airport was able to make changes in it, taking back some ticket counter and other support space and shifting the airlines around.
The new C is being built in two sections. The north part of the concourse and a third of the ticketing area have been demolished, a section of taxiway relocated and the ramp extended. Construction of the replacement north concourse and the main terminal started in March and will be complete in the late spring of 2008, providing 17 narrowbody and two Regional gates in about 450,000 sq. ft. American and United Express will move into the new area, joined by Delta, which is now in Terminal A. A central energy plant for the new complex will be completed this fall.
The new Terminal C will have "an open, airy look with lots of glass and sloping ceilings," explains Michael McElvaney, deputy airport director for operations. "It's supposed to remind people of the rolling hills of the Piedmont," where Raleigh is located.
After C's new north concourse is occupied, the southern section will be replaced, completing the terminal. When that project is finished in the first half of 2010, "we will move Northwest, Continental and US Airways into C. That will give us six Major carriers in that terminal, with room for them to grow, and leave Terminal A to Southwest and AirTran, which will also have more room there," Brantley says.
The new C "is built around the in-line baggage screening system," he says. Luggage will be identified with barcodes at first but the system will be RFID-capable. The building will be entirely common-use, with passenger processing, FIDS and gate, ramp and bag claim displays all controlled by the gate management software. Airport authority personnel will operate these systems from a ramp control tower on top of the building, replacing American's present tower. Even advertising will have to be in electronic flat-panel form, Brantley has decided. Powered walkways will move passengers along the concourses.
The main lobby will have three two-sided counter islands with 10 agent positions on each side and two bag belts running between them inside the counters. The islands will be set perpendicular to the front door of the building to "create alleyways in the floor path" to the 10-lane, expandable security checkpoint. The terminal will be "partial common use" at first. Brantley defines this as an environment in which gates will be assigned on a short-term preferential basis. "This won't necessarily be so with full common-use. We will set up that building so that . . . we can extract additional capacity from it by employing the common-use platform fully."
The common-use system holds no terrors for AA RDU GM Daniel Mitchell, who worked with CUTE at Frankfurt. He is confident that major staff retraining won't be necessary. "They'll just sign in to the terminals. Each airline will have its own partition, protected by its own security, within the system . . . The building will be state-of-the-art, very convenient for our customers." American Eagle Station Manager Jeff Woods says, "It will be a much more customer-friendly airport, with more restrooms" and new bag claim and bag makeup areas. In-line baggage screening "will be a big, big plus," as will the new FIDS, providing better information to passengers, he adds.
American operates 17 and Eagle 53 daily flights from 10 shared gates. Each carries about the same number of total passengers. About 35% of Eagle's traffic connects to mainline AA flights, mostly to Miami, Woods says. AA's daily 777 trip to London also attracts many Eagle passengers. The two managers don't yet know how many gates they will use in the new facility, noting that corporate real estate staff is working out these details with airport planners.
Once Terminal C is completed, "we will reconfigure Terminal A a bit," Brantley says. A was built as a temporary facility in two sections connected by a narrow corridor. Southwest and US Airways use one section, the other carriers a longer unit. Three of A's 23 gates are unused. There also are two ticketing lobbies and two bag makeup/claim areas; Southwest has two bag belts and the other carriers share three. Two Delta gates in the center of the terminal will be removed to create a common outbound bag room on the ramp with in-line screening. With the gates removed, A will have 21 gates on an updated concourse. This work probably will start in 2011 and take "several years" to finish, costing in the $125 million-$150 million range.
Southwest uses four gates in Terminal A, but holdroom space is small so "we treat it like three gates," Edward Shelswell-White, the airline's regional director-properties, tells AE&T. "We have plenty of ramp space . . . and the current environment is such that we could get additional facilities if we need them." Southwest operates 28 trips a day. It could add flights with its current facilities, but "at some point we would have to add additional spacesomewhere north of 30 and south of 40" daily flights. "We like the direction the airport is going" with its modernization plans, he adds. "Raleigh is a relatively low-cost airport, and I'm sure we will be able to come to a design for Terminal A that will meet our needs at a reasonable cost."
Terminal A will "have some common-use capability," according to Brantley, but Shelswell-White does not want to have to use it. "The biggest problem with CUTE is that there is no industry standard, so every airport [with CUTE] requires a lot of back-office support [from airlines]. We appreciate the goal of CUTE, which is to maximize the use of airport facilities. But we use our facilities so heavily that CUTE doesn't give us anything . . . Southwest doesn't need CUTE to be productive. We don't mind if it's there as long as we can run a parallel system of our own." However, he notes, the changes to Terminal A are "five years out. If the industry establishes a standard for CUTE that minimizes the work it takes for us to support it on the back end, we're willing to talk about it. But right now these conditions do not exist."
Brantley also is looking to the future, when he believes airport authorities or third-party companies will do the support work carriers now do individuallypassenger, baggage and ramp handling, facilities maintenance and similar tasks. "I think the airlines are moving inexorably to the day when they essentially just operate the airplanes."
Tracking Ground Trips
Raleigh-Durham has installed transponders on all commercial vehicles that regularly use airport roadways to track actual use by those hotel and rental car buses, shuttles and others. A six-month test of the devices will begin this summer, Deputy Director-Operations Michael McElvaney tells AE&T, then the airport will decide whether to add a per-use charge to the basic fee vehicle operators already pay the airport. "This is a tool to control congestion," he says, and could lead to a consolidated bus system to serve all rental car companies.