Abbey Slattery WRAL
Aviation and economic development: how regional airports make an impact in the Triangle
October 26, 2021
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  • “The State of Aviation” is a comprehensive report published by the North Carolina Department of Transportation every two years, focusing on the impact of 71 publicly owned airports across the state.

    In the Triangle, Raleigh-Durham International was clearly the focus of activity, serving nearly 15 million passengers, but regional airports — including nearby Raleigh Executive Jetport — made a significant contribution by keeping commercial and recreational air traffic flowing smoothly.

    “The majority of business at regional airports is general aviation traffic,” said Michael Landguth, CEO of RDU. “At RDU, that represents about 1.5% of our total revenue, while that number is almost 100% for a regional airport.”

    Landguth said the economic success of aviation relies on well-developed regional and international airports.

    “It’s really a system, and there’s a little bit of crossover. At RDU, it’s all about commercial aviation aspects. As you start moving into the regional airports around us, it’s more about general aviation, which includes not only people that have small airplanes and want to travel for their own business or leisure, but also corporate activity,” said Landguth. “Those regional airports allow corporate companies that may want to build a plant in the rural part of our community to fly directly there. We also have that capability at RDU, so there’s a convergence that occurs between ourselves and general aviation airports to accommodate that traffic and help growth.”

    For the smaller communities that are home to regional airports, that corporate activity and potential opens up new opportunities on a local level — including both commercial and residential growth.

    “These smaller airports fit hand in glove with our economic development conversations. Take Chatham Park, for example. It’s over 7,000 acres, which is the same size as the Research Triangle Park,” said Chatham County Economic Development President Michael Smith. “With the offices and retailers coming to Chatham Park, it fits so well with the Raleigh Executive Jetport.”

    Chatham Park reflects a larger trend across the state, with smaller communities capitalizing on the convenience of live-work-play developments. Economic opportunities opened up by these projects allow for immense growth. In fact, Chatham Park expects to bring 60,000 new residents to Pittsboro by the time the build is completed.

    Since Smith previously worked in Lee County, he’s intimately familiar with the selling points that a nearby regional airport allows for — and more specifically, the selling points of Raleigh Exec.

    “They have that brand new terminal, which is certainly a high-class look as soon as anybody lands there. Another thing about that airport is the runway length of over 6,000 feet, so basically any corporate aircraft you’re thinking about can land at the Raleigh Executive Jetport. That’s another key feature that we certainly like to stress,” said Smith. “It’s in such a good location right off the freeway, which makes it easy to get to any location around the Triangle.”

    Chatham County’s Triangle Innovation Point, one of the largest megasites in the state, is another major project that benefits from its proximity to Raleigh Exec. The more than 2,150-acre project offers sites ranging from 10 acres to 1,000 acres and is slated to be a hub for life sciences and advanced manufacturing.

    “The fact that Triangle Innovation Point is right next door to the Raleigh Executive Jetport is a huge positive,” said Smith. “Right now, we’re fortunate to be in a number of conversations with very large clients, and many times the fact that Raleigh Executive is located just down the road has been a huge selling point.”

    In tandem with the proximity of RDU, the Triangle is building quite the reputation for aviation, and both Smith and Landguth expect to see more growth as a result.

    “The general principles that are in place regarding population growth, business growth and quality of life are all here. All of those are ingredients for continued growth, and air service is a major element in making that growth successful long-term,” said Landguth. “We want to make sure that we’ve got the infrastructure in place to support the continued growth that the community is asking for, and both regional airports and airports like RDU are part of that overall system.”