RDU offers taste of what's to come

Aug. 25--The concrete has been poured, the steel beams are up, and the Douglas fir trusses have been raised.

At Raleigh-Durham International Airport's Terminal C, under construction since May 2006, visitors on Friday got a glimpse of what part of the new terminal will look like when its northern concourse is completed next summer.

The space, light and airy, has undulating ceilings evoking the rolling hills of the Piedmont. Underneath, in rooms filled with natural light, travelers will be accommodated by facilities that have been improved and expanded on every level.

American Airlines opened a north-south hub operation at RDU in what was then the new Terminal C in June 1987. American brought RDU its first international flights to Bermuda, Cancun and Paris Orly from the terminal. American ended its hub operations -- while maintaining a presence -- at RDU in 1996 leaving Terminal C with a dearth of flights.

The new Terminal C will be three times the size of the original when its southern concourse is completed in 2010. It will become the new main terminal of the airport.

The northern concourse in phase one will be open in summer 2008.

The southern portion (phase two) will be demolished after the northern concourse is completed. That way, RDU can keep services going by juggling passengers and flights between the two.

The overall project is projected to cost $570 million.

"It's going to be fantastic when completed. I'm very excited," said RDU communications manager Mindy Hamlin, who led a tour Friday.

Among the perks in the new terminal will be: 80 electronic kiosks, 60 check-in counters, 10 security lanes and three international gates that will be able to accommodate wide-body planes.

Delta Airlines will be the first to move into the new digs.

"Raleigh-Durham is a very important area for us," said Anthony Black, spokesman for Delta. "Particularly the Triangle has been growing for the past 20-plus years, and the demand for air travel has grown."

Delta flies many business travelers from and to RDU through hubs in Cincinnati and Atlanta, Black said.

The airline has added two national nonstop flights at RDU the last two years, including Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

According to RDU, the number of passengers at the airport has increased by 7 percent over the past year and will approach 10 million in 2007.

The airport is still small when compared to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which had 85 million passengers last year, according to its own statistics.

RDU's passenger levels have not approached 10 million since before Sept. 11, 2001 but Hamlin expects its current upswing to continue.

To accommodate the extra passengers, RDU is expanding concessions at the new terminal, where the airport hopes to have sit-down restaurants, national stores and specialty stores that reflect the regional flavor.

Marsha Horowitz, a travel consultant with Durham-based Carlson Wagonlit Travel, said she hopes the new terminal will further boost the Triangle's image.

"The area's spending a lot of money on convention centers and trying to bring in big money for meetings," she said. "The airport is the first place you see when you come here."

Horowitz, who mostly handles travels abroad, said she wished the airport had more international flights to destinations such as Mexico and the Caribbean.

London and Toronto are the only nonstop international destinations from RDU, according to the airport's Web site.

The addition of international flights will depend on the number of passengers using the airport who can support them, Hamlin said.

"That does open up opportunities when airlines know we're expanding our terminal," she said.

After the completion of Terminal C, Terminal A, which opened in 1981, will get its own makeover.

That terminal, which has become the overcrowded and outdated main terminal for the airport, will be redeveloped, not bulldozed.

"We will knock out some walls, add some additional space. We're at the project planning stage," Hamlin said.

Discount carriers, including Southwest Airlines, AirTran Airlines, JetBlue Airways and ExpressJet Airlines will remain at Terminal A.

Terminal C will eventually house American Airlines, Air Canada and all other airlines at the airport.

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