Charlotte’s Intermodal Hub

Airport teams with industry, other groups to create a multimodal hub of the future

While airports play a significant part in economic growth and stability, the Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is taking it to an entirely new level. With development of a third parallel runway, an interior rail freight terminal, and a major air cargo complex, CLT is transforming itself into an air hub of the future — all modes available, all of the time. This will place CLT in a unique position with integrated, multimodal capabilities, providing Charlotte with a new foundation for economic activity and a distinct competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

How did Charlotte develop a global vision for the 21st Century — a vision which addresses the regional economy, workforce, and environment — and how is this vision being realized? Therein lies a story of planning, coordination, and execution.

A Stronger Impact

Constructed in 1936 and taken over by the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Charlotte Douglas International has experienced a long history of expansion since opening a new passenger terminal in 1954. The Airport’s designation as a Piedmont Airlines (later US Airways) hub and the construction of a new runway in 1979, along with a new passenger terminal in 1982 and an 80,000-square foot international and commuter concourse in 1990, gave the airport much expanded passenger capacity.

By 1996, CLT was US Airway’s largest hub in terms of passenger traffic, and the major air passenger center of the Carolinas. Today, the airport is U.S. Airways’ largest hub and ranks eighth nationwide in operations and eleventh in the U.S. in passengers, carrying more than 34 million passengers a year.

With rising passenger growth, however, came the realization in the mid-1990’s that freight carriage was lagging. At the time, Michael Gallis & Associates (MGA), a Charlotte-based strategic regional planning firm, was tapped to develop a ‘Charlotte metro’ master plan that included regional growth alternatives. CLT director Jerry Orr wanted to make sure that the airport continued to play a strong role in the region’s competitiveness, one that would include expanded freight capacity. The year was 1996, and it was almost time for an airport master plan update. Orr wanted to conduct a broader strategic plan before starting the update to help direct the airport’s future as a regional economic engine, and enlisted MGA to help. One of the first things MGA did was to analyze how CLT fit into the larger picture.

The New Global Opportunity

The mid-1990’s were a time of rapid changes. Starting with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, world trade and transportation patterns began a dramatic shift that continues today. Airspace over former Communist nations opened up. Globalization was distributing economic power to new nations, and the formerly Atlantic-centered trade pattern became less pronounced with the rise of Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America.

These developments altered trade and air patterns, and also provided an opportunity for CLT to re-think its role in the U.S. and in the global network. With a rapidly globalizing economy and shifting trade patterns taking place, CLT management sought to take advantage of these changes to anchor the airport as a regional hub for trade and transportation in the growing metro-economy.

Strategic Visioning

A strategic visioning process was undertaken to determine how CLT fit into the area’s economic, transportation, demographic, and real estate development patterns, and how the airport could maximize the relationships between those patterns.

This involved combed through mounds of data and interviewed dozens of Charlotte-area trade, communications, and logistics companies. Key regional stakeholders — including Bank of America, Maersk, Carolina Trucking, Bell South (now AT&T), Duke Energy, and Norfolk-Southern, among others — provided information about the realities of changing global trade and communications networks, as well as where the companies saw their future and Charlotte’s role in that future.

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