Raleigh-Durham International Airport will resume some construction projects it put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, as demand for air travel picks up.
Specifically, RDU will add two more lanes to the security checkpoint in Terminal 2 and finish building a parking area where planes can stay overnight. It will also resume planning on several longer-term projects, including the expansion of Economy 3, its remote park-and-ride lot off Aviation Parkway, and a new rental car facility within walking distance of the terminals.
The projects were all in the works in early 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the airline industry, all but emptying the airport. As revenue from airlines and passengers dove, RDU halted work on construction activity meant to keep up with growing demand for air travel.
Now that demand has returned faster than expected just a few months ago. This spring, RDU estimated that 2 million people would board planes in the fiscal year that began in April, but has now revised that projection to 3.5 million, and says traffic may be back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
“Deferred projects can’t be deferred any longer,” Chuck McFall, RDU’s chief strategy officer told members of the airport board on Friday. “Things have just turned out better than we anticipated they would, which is a good thing.”
Overall, the RDU Airport Authority voted Friday to increase capital spending by $21.1 million, including $1.5 million to expand the security checkpoint in Terminal 2.
RDU added two lanes to the TSA checkpoint in the spring of 2019, bringing the total there to 12. But the day they opened, airport officials could see they’d need more, particularly before 8 a.m when it routinely took passengers a half hour or more to get through the security screening.
The need for extra lanes evaporated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even now, passenger traffic at RDU remains about a third lower than pre-pandemic levels.
But construction of the two new security lanes will take about a year to complete, said Bill Sandifer, the airport’s chief operating officer. With the airline business rebounding faster than expected, the extra capacity will be needed by next summer, Sandifer said.
The parking lot for planes is also related to the busy mornings at RDU. To make sure planes are available first thing in the morning, airlines keep them at RDU overnight. Parking had gotten so tight that all 36 gates at Terminal 2 were occupied and another 20 planes were parked around the airport campus.
Work on the Remain Overnight or RON apron just north of Terminal 2 was well underway when the pandemic hit. The airport’s governing board agreed Friday to spend $7.5 million to finish the job, giving airlines a place to park their planes before the morning rush.