Retired RDU chief: Airport 'for today' is here
Posted November 26, 2011
Updated November 27, 2011
Morrisville, N.C. — 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.
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.