UPDATE – RDU International Airport’s country charm is fading. But it’s still great for business.

Posted on 01/10/11 No Comments

RDU Welcome Sign

Poking around the Web this morning, we came across the USA Today travel section highlighting the popularity of smaller airports among frequent fliers. Our point with this original post exactly.  Okay, so Raleigh wasn’t mentioned specifically in the article but nevertheless, RDU still holds many of the same qualities alluded to in the article.

— yesterday’s post —

From a business perspective, our area was once defined solely by Research Triangle Park, which houses some of the world’s most recognized brands. The largest research park in the country, it’s no doubt one of the world’s foremost science and technology hotbeds.

However, like a circulatory system of innovation, veins and arteries of business have grown out of RTP over the last 20 years, making areas like Raleigh, Cary, Durham, Apex and Morrisville essential components to the livelihood of the Triangle. This is the system that fuels our growth, providing countless reasons for so many people to move here.

In a recent conversation with an executive at Durham’s McKinney, a top-notch national advertising firm that spins messaging for companies like Nationwide, Sony, Audi and Travelocity, I couldn’t help but find it compelling that their company touts RDU International Airport as one of our region’s greatest business strengths.

Who knew?

The person I spoke with illustrated that the airport’s locale and ease of use once made it simple for them to plant portions of a pitch to a visiting potential client along the roads leading away from RDU and toward their office. That’s cool. But it might not be as possible anymore.

For years, RDU sat quietly in northwest Raleigh, funneling people in and out of a single road that wound around a hill on the outskirts of Umstead State Park. The proximity of the Angus Barn, even though a top-notch steak house, only helped further the stigma of RDU being a one-horse airport.

As it turns out, that was always the appeal, even as the Triangle grew up around it.

Business executives loved the simplicity of our airport. Flights were cheap, lines were short, taxis easy to find and the car rental offices didn’t require a 25-minute shuttle ride. An arriving passenger could be off of their plane and at a meeting in RTP in under 20 minutes.

Only in the last couple of years has RDU International undergone a modernization. Thankfully, much of those terrific logistical benefits remain intact.

Terminal C has been completely revamped into a sleek, contemporary destination for air travel. The old country road is now fenced off and airport access is guided by broad, highway-spanning signs above each surrounding thoroughfare. New parking garages are up and sculptors have been commissioned.

Terminal A remains a temporary line of elevated, well, trailers. There are plans to build anew on its side of RDU as well to complete what many will feel is a travel hub worthy of the Triangle’s business environment. But many think we’ve always had that.

Folks thinking of moving here can rest assured that RDU remains an easy, relatively uncrowded airport. Access is still a snap and there are plenty of direct flights to and from most of the country’s major metros. Family is never far away.

Still, we can’t help but miss part of the old RDU, when the greatest threat to a landing airplane was a herd of deer on the runway.

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