RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Raleigh-Durham International Airport continues to see a surge in passengers as people travel this weekend for Memorial Day.
As demand for travel continues to increase post-COVID, and with population growth in the Triangle, the airport is looking at ways to expand to keep up with demand.
Prior to the holiday weekend, airport officials said they anticipated a nearly 20 percent increase in passengers this Memorial Day weekend compared to last. The surge comes just weeks after more than 190,000 passengers came through the airport for Mother’s Day and college graduation weekend.
Airlines continue adding additional destinations across the country as well. According to the airport’s 2023-24 budget, more than 2 million more passengers are expected to travel at RDU this budget year compared to last.
To meet this increased demand, airport officials are looking at numerous ways to expand, something passengers say they’re looking forward to.
“Raleigh is a very big hub for travelers, especially coming to the East Coast. Especially because most of the routing from the West coast comes into Charlotte and then comes up to Raleigh, I think that expansion is a great opportunity for more people to come to Raleigh,” said Tyler Hancox, who travels from Fayetteville to fly out of RDU.
In 2017, the Airport Authority laid out Vision 2040, a 25-year master plan that sets the groundwork for the airport’s plans to expand to meet increased demand.
Just a few years after the plan was released, however, the airport says growth was already growing faster than the plan anticipated. While the COVID pandemic paused and postponed parts of Vision 2040, projects are now continuing again.
One of the cornerstones of the plan is the replacement and reconstruction of Runway 5L/23R, the airport’s primary runway. Last year, the FAA authorized a replacement that’s nearly 700 feet longer than their current runway.
The new runway is now waiting for a federal environmental review, something the Department of Transportation’s website says is anticipated to be completed sometime next month.
A longer runway, airport leadership says, would allow airlines to carry more passengers and cargo.
Several components of Vision 2040 have been completed to this point, including expanding the security checkpoint and rehabbing the runway and certain taxiways.
RDU is also looking at the possibility of expanding Terminal 2 and economy parking.
“I’m parked in Economy 4, lot 4 and that’s like a mile and a half away. We had to take a bus to kinda come into the terminal here, and it took us about 20 minutes to get from there to here. So if they can build some economy parking closer,” said Hancox.
In its 2023-24 budget, the Airport Authority says it anticipates more than 16 million annual passengers by 2027, significantly more than the 14.6 million expected this year.
The runway replacement project is expected to cost more than $372 million.