San Diego, San Jose, Mexico City and Montreal are among the destinations that Raleigh-Durham International Airport hopes Triangle travelers will be able to reach with nonstop flights in the coming years.
On Thursday, RDU's vice president for community affairs, Kristie VanAuken, outlined the airport's strategy for persuading airlines to offer new service. It involves making the case that there will be enough demand to fill planes, as well as offering airlines financial incentives, such as helping to market new flights or waiving landing fees for the first year.
RDU also hopes to add an airline its roster, VanAuken said. With the merger of Alaska and Virgin America, RDU is now served by nine airlines, led by Delta, American and Southwest.
In the past year, airlines have added nonstop flights to 10 new cities from RDU, including Kansas City, San Antonio, Milwaukee and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Triangle travelers can now fly nonstop to 57 destinations.
But travelers still have to change planes to get to four of the most popular domestic destinations from RDU — all four on the West Coast: San Diego, San Jose and Orange County, Calif., and Portland, Ore. RDU hopes to win nonstop flights to all four of those destinations in the coming years, VanAuken told members of the RDU Airport Authority board on Thursday.
RDU now has nonstop flights to three West Coast cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.
Internationally, RDU has launched a multi-year effort to win a nonstop flight to China. But in the meantime, it hopes to offer new service to Caribbean destinations such as Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and Montego Bay, Jamaica, VanAuken said. Another top priority would be a nonstop flight to Mexico or Central or South America, she said.
RDU Authority board member Dickie Thompson said he was recently talking to someone at the Mexican consulate in Raleigh when the subject of air travel came up.
"They were super excited about the possibility of nonstop service from Raleigh to Mexico City," said Thompson, a Raleigh City Council member.
"So are we," VanAuken replied. "Mexico City is on our hot list."
RDU spent about $150,000 in the year ending March 31 to help airlines market flights to new destinations and will rebate landing fees worth tens of thousands of dollars more, VanAuken said. This fiscal year, the airport has budgeted $200,000 to help promote flights to new cities, said RDU CEO Michael Landguth.
"Based on what we think we're going to get, we think that $200,000 is sufficient," Landguth said.
The Triangle's growing population and strong economy make the best case for adding new air service from RDU, VanAuken said. The incentives may simply help sway an airline that is receiving similar, often more generous incentives from other airports, she said.
"This is really just the cherry on top," she said.
A record 16.1 million people flew through RDU last year; in March, a half million people boarded flights at the airport, the first time that has ever happened in a single month, Landguth said.
Each passenger that boards a plane at RDU results in $23 in revenue for the airport on average, VanAuken said, so adding service would more than offset any incentives the airport offers.
"Flights generate revenue," she said. "That's the bottom line. That's why we do this."