Retired RDU chief: Airport 'for today' is here

Posted November 26, 2011
Updated November 27, 2011

Terminal 2 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport

— The longtime director of Raleigh-Durham International Airport is enjoying his first holiday weekend without worrying about how travelers are faring in the friendly skies.

John Brantley retired this week after overseeing operations at RDU for 29 years. He started at RDU in 1977 as an engineering assistant and become airport director five years later.

"At the time, it was going to be a two-year commitment. That turned into 34," Brantley said.

In the late 70s, RDU still looked like it had at the end of World War II, and it lay in what was then a largely undeveloped area between Raleigh and Durham.

"I don't mind telling you. In 1978, we didn't get a lot of compliments. We got a lot of complaints," he remembered.

The nearby Research Triangle Park was taking off, though, and both the RDU Authority and Brantley knew the airport needed to keep up with the times.

Brantley turned to the public for help in crafting their vision for expanding RDU.

"You tell us what you like and dislike and hopefully consensus would build around that, and that's exactly what happened," he said.

Brantley oversaw the evolution of RDU from a mid-sized regional airport drawing 700,000 people a year to to a thriving airport taking 9.1 million travelers a year from coast to coast and to several international destinations.

John Brantley, retired director of Raleigh-Durham International Airport Retired director reflects on RDU's growth

His long-range master plan included construction of the airport’s 10,000-foot runway and the red-roofed Terminal C that American Airlines used as its Southeast hub operations.

When American pulled out in the mid-1990s, Brantley recruited Midway Airlines, which catered to business travelers, and when Midway ceased operations in the economic downturn after 9/11, he recruited Southwest Airlines, jetBlue and other carriers.

Brantley also oversaw a massive overhaul of the airport's facilities, capped by the opening $570 million Terminal 2 ahead of schedule and under budget in January.

A North Carolina State University alum and die-hard fan, Brantley had one last gift for RDU: At his last board meeting, he declared the airport Wolfpack Country.

Brantley said he takes pride in walking through Terminal 2 and seeing the fulfillment of a decade-long vision.

"I felt in many respects that the airport that was needed or is needed for today is finally here," he said.


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  • jmortega Nov 28, 2011

    The airport is nice and modern but the baggage service needs major work. It takes over 45 minutes to get your bags in Terminal 2. Some of the converys don't work properly and there are constant delays. Could it be the distance between the gates and baggage claim area? RDU stands for World-class but the baggage service is not World-class.

  • dwntwnboy Nov 28, 2011

    Actually, the new terminal is very advanced and has been acknowledged as such from it's sweeping open architecture to shops and ease of travel around the concourse. It's not going to be a Tokyo or LAX...but that's a good thing. The airport we have now is many many times better than the one I remember as a child- heck, it's even MUCH better than when I worked there before the new terminal opened. So many are so quick to say something negative....sad really.

  • Screw WrAl Nov 28, 2011

    I hope he doesn't think RDU is spome ground breaking, earth shattering new thing. It's only behind the rest of the country by about 15 years.

    It's Po Dunk air travel at its best.