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RDU Lobbies For Another Non-Stop International Flight


There is a major push to bring a second Trans-Atlantic flight to Raleigh Durham International Airport.  The Airport Authority wants it, the business community wants it, and so do travelers.

But don’t hold your breath.  Luring international flight service to RDU can be just as hard as trying to convince a major corporation to move here.

Raleigh Durham International Airport or RDU gets to call itself an international airport mainly because of its regular flights to Toronto, London and Cancun.  But there is just one Trans-Atlantic flight and you can count on that American Airlines flight to London like clock-work, seven days a week.

Michael Yeung, his wife and toddler in a stroller are checking in, to make that flight.  Yeung says they needed a little vacation and they wanted a non-stop flight.

“And this is actually the reason why we are going to London, because this is the only direct flight that we can go out of the country, far away, that is convenient, especially since we have a baby," said Yeung.

But Yeung wouldn’t mind a straight shot to Spain, Italy or Thailand.

Esther Cyna is a researcher and has spent the past few months in Durham.  She’s on the same flight.

“This is the fifth time I have been on this flight, so yes, it is very, very convenient!" said Cyna.

Cyna will have to change flights at London Heathrow, she lives in Paris.  She says if she had to take an unofficial poll, most of the people on her flight are French, English and Indian.

About 1.5 million people travel between RDU and some international destination each year.  And a lot of those people go beyond Europe to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. 

Michael Landguth is the President and CEO of the RDU Airport Authority.  He says between 2008 and 2012, demand for international travel jumped by almost 30-percent at RDU.

“Our region is very diverse and that diversity brings lots of people from all over the world, so making sure that we can connect citizens of our regions all across the world," said Landguth.

The Triangle is growing, but so are some other parts of the country. They want more overseas travel too.

“But you’ve got places like Memphis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Austin, San Jose, think of any community that’s similar to size as we are, Nashville,  they are all competing for something similar," said Landguth.

And Landguth says convincing a carrier to come to RDU has gotten a little more difficult with all the airline mergers in recent years.  That means fewer of these big birds are in the sky.

And the investment is big.  It will cost about $75 million to put one airplane in a community like RDU to fly one international flight a day.

“Thank you American Airlines for that flight.  That’s great.  We’d like to see another flight," said Joe Milazzo.

Joe Milazzo is Executive Director of the Regional Transportation Alliance, a business group that focuses on transportation.   

He says air service development is economic development.  A NC State study shows adding an international flight to Paris or Frankfurt would have a $1.4 billion dollar economic impact over 25 years and create thousands of jobs.  Milazzo says it’s time to push ahead.

“In many ways the domestic service is coming along pretty well.  Five or six years ago, how many West Coast flights did we have? None," said Mimlazzo.  "Now we have multiple to San Francisco, we’ve got multiple to Los Angeles.  So where should our focus be, international is the place to go.”

The Regional Transportation Alliance has partnered with RDU and the business community to raise a half million dollars to promote and recruit international non-stop service.   Milazzo says they’re half way there.

Right now passengers fly out of RDU to London on a 767.  This summer, American will be using a bigger plane, a Triple 7, for more passengers and of course, more first class perks.

An earlier version of this story said RDU has one international flight. RDU has flights to London, Toronto, and Cancun. London is the only Trans-Atlantic flight.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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