Cover Story: Charlotte Douglas Int'l Airport - USA's 8th busiest

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte Douglas International Airport has become the eighth busiest airport in the country in the most recent federal rankings.. a position it's had for three months.  Busiest in terms of the number of passengers who fly out of here.  The fact has largely flown under the radar.  Even if you don't fly, it's an important economic story for Charlotte.

35 million passengers passed through Charlotte Douglas in 2008.  The largest passenger load in airport history.

Frank Shugart and his wife from Rock Hill were returning from a direct flight to Dallas this afternoon.

"It means a whole lot to the economy and everything else in this area," says Shugart.

Over the last year-- US Airways, Charlotte's primary carrier has been adding flights.  The airline had 542 daily departures from Charlotte last June.  This June-- it's 568.  26 more daily flights, a 5% increase.

Last April, US Airways inaugurated a daily flight to Paris.  In December, the airline begins its first-ever service to South America: Charlotte to Rio de Janeiro.

When that happens it means there will be few places on earth you can't fly to directly.  These are the international locations you can get to directly from Charlotte.

"It's said that the great cities in the world have always been transportation centers."

Ted Reed writer and reporter for the business website "The Street" dot com.. has covered aviation for 20 years and worked in the airline industry.  He says more places to fly mean more passengers and more jobs for Charlotte.

"Tremendous economic asset to Charlotte.. to have that many people going through here changing planes here.. that much industry here. That many crew people based here.. that many people working at the airport. Each flight at the airport requires more people to work at the airport," says Reed.

The airport's helped put the region on the map.. and bring jobs here.

Companies like Japanese-based Toshiba which announced several weeks ago it was planting a flag here want non-stop service when they consider relocating to a city.

Aviation director Jerry Orr says, "We've pretty much cast our lot that we want to be an international community.. have an awful lot of international business focused here. Nothing like a non-stop flight to really bring international investment and business."

While many airlines have been shrinking because of the poor economy.. US Airways is growing in Charlotte.

It makes a third parallel runway open next spring more relevant.

Says Orr, "We've grown tremendously. And most of that growth is not the local traffic which has suffered with the economy, but because US Airways has put more flights in here."

It wasn't too many years ago Charlotte Douglas broke into the top 20 in terms of passenger traffic.. 20th busiest airport in the nation.

Now it's cracked the top 10.  When the economy rebounds-- many look for it to take off.

It's an important souteastern hub for the airlines, right behind Atlanta.