Cover Story: Charlotte's new runway

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte Douglas International Airport opened a new runway Friday.  It is now one of only seven airports in the country with capacity for three landings at the same time.

It's a big deal for keeping planes in the air.  That's great for passengers, and the airlines.

The added capacity is also good for Charlotte's economy.

As one official said you can put 9,000 feet of concrete on an interstate and it'll take you 9,000 feet.  Build a 9,000 foot runway, which is what we have here in Charlotte now, and it'll take you anywhere in the world.

Getting a workout already.  18 Right / 36 Left at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.  The airport's newest runway in 31 years.

"This will be an engine that will help drive our economy into positive territory and we ought to celebrate it," says Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.

It showed up on the airport's master plan three decades ago and was dedicated Friday.

"3-2-1 yeah."

Costing $325 million, about half paid by the federal government, the rest from airport bonds that will be paid back through passenger tickets.  Putting Charlotte into an elite class, now with four runways, giving the airport ability to land three planes at the same time increasing airport capacity by 33%.  Saving the nine major carriers who fly through here 65 million dollars a year from costs related to delays.

"It really does not pay us to have an aircraft that's stagnant and not utilized. You're going to make the revenue and the money as you take people from point A to point B and you utilize your aircraft," says Terri Pope, US Airways Vice President for the Charlotte hub.

In clearing land the airport made room for a future rail yard, in between two runways.

Norfolk-Southern Railroad has outgrown its intermodal yard north of downtown where it transfers and off-loads cargo.. not an ideal situation near Center City.

It's been Airport Director Jerry Orr dream to bring the rail facility to the airport proper creating a mega transportation hub.  He says, "The airport is one of the places where you have the capability in an urban environment to have a big rail yard and it doesn't infringe on the neighborhoods and other parts of the city."

Next month the city hopes to sign a long-term lease to bring the $90 million intermodal yard here.. to coincide with the new runway.

North Carolina's US Senator Kay Hagan was at the dedication.  She said, "This new runway that we are dedicating today represents a positive economic development and economic recovery for this city. People are going to be traveling through Charlotte spending more money here and more people will be visiting this great city."

Only seven airports in the country can land three airplanes at the same time, Charlotte's now on that list.  It will allow the airport to add more flights. Charlotte averages more than 600 arrivals each day making it now the second busiest airport on the East Coast.