Triangle business executives and tourists will soon have the option of hopping on a nonstop flight to Paris from Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Delta Air Lines will begin offering daily nonstop flights from RDU to the “City of Light” beginning in May, making Paris the second European city with nonstop service from RDU. American Airlines has offered daily nonstop flights to London since 1994.
“For an airport our size, this is almost unheard of – having two transatlantic flights coming out of our market,” Mike Landguth, president and CEO of the RDU Airport Authority, said at a press conference Thursday morning. “That says a lot about our region and its economic vitality.”
Local officials and a Delta executive who announced the new service stressed that the Paris flight also will serve as a steppingstone to a host of other destinations. Passengers will be able to catch connecting flights “to more than 75 destinations throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” said Tori Forbes-Roberts, a vice president at the airline.
The airport authority has been working for years to land a second overseas connection. Business executives and others see the new flight as providing additional lift for the Triangle’s economy.
Steve Brechbiel, senior director of community relations at Quintiles, hailed it as a plus for recruiting new industry.
“It’s great from a marketing position for the region,” said Brechbiel, who is also the incoming chair of the Regional Transportation Alliance.
“This additional flight to Europe is just what we need to help connect our industries, retain job growth, bring in new opportunities,” said Bob Geolas, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation, which operates Research Triangle Park. “This is a huge, huge business opportunity.”
Dickie Thompson, chairman of the airport authority, noted that a 2014 study by N.C. State University economist Michael Walden projected that a new international flight would boost the region’s gross domestic product by $1.4 billion and create 14,000 new jobs over 25 years.
Delta has had its eyes on an RDU-to-Paris connection for years.
In November 2008, during the midst of the recession, Delta announced plans to offer nonstop service to Paris five days a week beginning the following June. The next month, however, the airline suspended those plans, citing the troublesome worldwide economy.
In addition, American Airlines began offering flights to Paris’s Orly airport in 1988, but that flight proved unprofitable and was canceled in 1994.
Forbes-Roberts said Delta is confident in the level of demand for its upcoming flight.
“We’re making the investment with the firm belief that it is going to be viable” over the long term, she said.
Landguth noted that about 750,000 passengers fly from RDU to Europe each year.
“American only carries about 10 percent of that,” he said, referring to the airline’s flight to London Heathrow. “Plus, we continue to grow.”
The airport authority is waiving $1.25 million in fees that Delta would otherwise have to pay and is providing $500,000 in funding to promote the Paris flight. A public/private partnership, including local governments and businesses, has committed $1.1 million to support the flight, according to the authority.
Landguth joked that there were probably more people behind the podium than in front during Thursday’s announcement because the flight was “the result of a collaborative effort between RDU, Delta Air Lines and our community.”
The Paris flights begin May 12. Flights will depart from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris at 10:45 a.m. and are scheduled to arrive at RDU at 1:57 p.m. A 6:13 p.m. departure from RDU is scheduled to arrive in Paris at 8:35 a.m. the following day. Tickets go on sale beginning Saturday.
Delta already is the No. 1 airline at RDU with more than 60 daily departures. It will also begin offering nonstop service to Salt Lake City in early 2016, “providing a gateway to the Pacific Northwest,” Forbes-Roberts said.
With the flight to Paris on the way, Landguth said the airport authority is setting its sights on attracting new direct flights to “the center of the country,” cities such as Kansas City, Austin, Texas, and New Orleans.
“We think that is where the next opportunity is because of what we are seeing in overall demand from consumers, and what we see with traffic,” he said.