New Charlotte Runway May Ease Airport Noise

Aug. 28--Charlotte Douglas International Airport announced Monday night it will build a new 12,000-foot runway that aviation director Jerry Orr said will lessen noise for some residents under current flight paths.

The $160 million project will be the airport's fifth runway, and its fourth parallel runway. It will allow the airport to land three planes at once, while keeping one runway exclusively for takeoffs.

Orr said the new runway would be longer than the existing runways, allowing for nonstop departures "deep into Europe or the Pacific rim." Those routes need a longer runway because the planes carry more fuel. There are no firm plans now to add more Europe flights or to start Charlotte's first non-stop flights to Asia.

He said he plans to begin environmental studies next year. Construction can probably begin in 2014, Orr said.

The expansion comes at a time of flux in the airline industry, however.

US Airways, the airport's dominant carrier, is trying to merge with American Airlines, which is restructuring in bankruptcy. Previous airline mergers have led to some cities losing service, such as St. Louis and Cincinnati.

US Airways has said it expects to add flights to Charlotte if a merger happens. And Orr has long said that he believes there will always be two large hubs in the Southeast -- Atlanta and Charlotte -- no matter what happens in the airline industry.

Charlotte Douglas in 2011 was the world's sixth-busiest airport in terms of takeoffs and landings.

Orr told City Council members Monday that the new runway would be a "noise abatement runway."

In 2009, when the airport opened its newest runway, near Interstate 485, Orr planned for that runway to be used sporadically. He thought the runway would be needed during bad weather when US Airways has to land several planes quickly to untangle delays.

But he said the Federal Aviation Administration has used the runway more frequently than expected.

"They are landing over homes to the north and the south, and that has triggered some lawsuits," Orr said.

When the new runway is built, Orr said, the FAA will be able to shift most landings and departures to the middle of the airfield.

It would be built immediately to the west of the airport's center runway, 18C-36C. That is the airport's longest runway today, at 10,000 feet.

Other upgrades

The new runway is the latest in a series of airport renovations and expansions, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

By mid-decade, the airport will have built two new daily parking decks; expanded the main ticketing area; and built a new, larger roadway for pick-ups and drop-offs.

Orr announced other expansions Monday:

--The airport has long planned to build a new international concourse on the surface parking lots for rental cars, just north of Concourse A. Orr said that project will be built when there is demand.

But he said Monday he plans to build a small portion of that new international concourse, which would be initially used for domestic flights by Delta, United and Southwest. The four new satellite gates would be connected to the main terminal by a new walkway.

"Delta wants another gate. United wants another gate. Southwest wants at least two gates," Orr said. "There is a clear need."

--Orr said he will build a new food court for concourses D and E, on the east side of the airport.

--Depending on need, Orr said he will soon build either a 15-gate expansion of Concourse E or a new 11-gate "dog-leg" expansion of Concourse B.

If US Airways needs room for larger, mainline aircraft, Orr said he would expand Concourse B. If the airline needs space for smaller, regional jets, he would expand Concourse E.

"We could build that tomorrow," Orr said, referring to the new gates for regional jets.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

Copyright 2012 - The Charlotte Observer

Loading