The pandemic has halted most international air travel from Raleigh-Durham International Airport. But international flights are gradually returning.
Routes to Canada and Mexico were the first to return, and now RDU welcomes the return of transatlantic flights with a new airline that flies direct to Iceland.
On a cloudy Thursday evening in May, about two dozen journalists, aviation fans and airport staff gathered on the runway as Icelandair Flight 821 landed. Water cannons from the airport fire department fired on the Boeing 737 as it was heading towards the gate.
Bogi Nils Bogason, CEO of Icelandair, was the first passenger to clear customs.
“You could say that before COVID, we saw this as an opportunity, as an addition to our network,” he said.
Icelandair made a reputation as a discount airline offering free stops in Iceland, as well as a network of European destinations stretching from Helsinki to the Canary Islands.
“And we also think it will be an interesting market for Icelanders and Europeans,” added Bogason.
RDU spent about five years negotiating with Icelandair and collecting data that showed the route would be profitable. The airport also offered cash, waiving fees of up to $250,000 for the first two years. The airport is using the same incentives in hopes of attracting other carriers.
“It’s not an emotional decision at all to bring an aircraft to market,” said Kenneth Strickland, RDU’s director of air travel development, on an episode of the airport’s official podcast. His job is to sell RDUs to promising airlines. He came to the Triangle from Tampa, where he helped the city’s airport. is rapidly expanding its international flight offerings.
“I can sit there all day and point out our breweries and how great the weather is,” said Strickland, “and we have mountains and beaches, but at the end of the day, it matters how many passengers we can get on that plane and how much are they going to spend to fly there? And that requires a level of data that airlines may not have access to.”
Icelandair RDU is currently a seasonal flight. The first flight ends in October, but other airlines’ year-round European flights are returning. The Americans resumed direct communication with London in early June. Delta flights to Paris are scheduled to resume in August.
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