The large aerial photos hanging on the conference room wall at Concord Regional Airport narrate how far the county has come in air travel in a short period of time.
Concord Regional was built in 1994 after a politically heated debate between Cabarrus County government (for growth) and a segment of the local citizenship (against growth) in an election year. We all know how that ended. The City now owns and operates the airport and hired Rick Cloutier as its aviation director in 2012.
Coming to Concord from Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport in Maine, Cloutier served as airport director there for six years. During his four years in Concord, he’s already witnessed the addition of Allegiant Airlines, which introduced commercial flights to and from Orlando and St. Petersburg, FL, in December of 2013. Fort Lauderdale followed in May 2014 and has become very popular, according to Cloutier. Allegiant has increased its number of flights since that time, now flying into and out of Concord every day of the week except Tuesday.
“Fifteen-thousand people flew on Allegiant in March alone,” Cloutier shares. “The flights were, on average, at 97 percent capacity compared to 91 percent normally.”
Spring breakers accounted for those particular numbers, but the steady increase of destination vacationers taking advantage of Concord’s commercial flights has prompted the City of Concord to expand for Allegiant with the construction of a new ramp, terminal and parking deck. The last large-scale project at the airport took place 10 years ago with the extension of the runway from 5,500 feet in length to 7,400 feet.
The ramp expansion – funded with a $4.37-million grant awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), along with City airport monies – cost $4.9 million. The 250,000-square-yard, two-foot-thick block of concrete can accommodate three large planes – 737s and larger – and sits completed and adjacent to the new terminal construction site at the southern end of the airport. It will help traffic flow for taxiing aircraft and allow Allegiant to park their planes next to a terminal that will offer restrooms and fresh food vending. At a cost of $6.7 million, 95 percent of the funding has come from the federal and state government. The other 5 percent is basically being divided between the City of Concord and a financing agreement.
Since the current Allegiant terminal is temporary – walls and all – this new, still-basic 30,000-square-foot terminal is a definite improvement. It’s also likely to entice expanded destinations on the part of Allegiant and/or other commercial carriers to enter the race. Cloutier would not elaborate on what other airlines and, as he’s told many others who have inquired, says, “Other airlines are interested and we’ve had conversations with other airlines. We have a spring meeting with Allegiant later this month (April) and then will be able to announce other (Allegiant) destinations and frequencies.”
In 2014, the most current year for statistics, Concord Regional was the fifth busiest airport in North Carolina; no private or corporate passenger numbers were included. And Allegiant accounted for 140,000 passengers in 2015 while charter flights accounted for 40,000. Cloutier expects Concord to rise to no. 4 when 2015 rankings are released.
Adjacent to the new terminal is a two-level parking deck that will hold 650-plus vehicles and cost $5.5 million. That is being paid for with airport parking revenue. When viewing the construction site, it appears to be in a hole, but the end product will see the top parking deck sit level with the terminal ground floor. Completion of both the terminal and deck are on time and on budget at this point, and slated for completion this July.
This phase also allows Concord Regional’s general aviation and commercial aviation to be separate – a Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) requirement. The two divisions have different security requirements and, “We are also separating them so we can continue to service and grow both parts,” Cloutier explains.
Along with the changes Concord Regional is seeing in commercial aviation is the facility’s move away from housing NASCAR teams’ aircraft. Yes, some team owners still keep small planes that can carry them to race city sites, but team staff is now being transported on charter flights by the likes of Miami Air, Southwest and Xtra Airways. Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas are a few of the exceptions but Roush Racing, whose older planes’ engine lives expired, now utilize charters. The cost savings is a given. Cloutier says that area sports teams, from the likes of UNC Charlotte and Davidson College, are also taking advantage of charter flights out of Concord.
That said, Allegiant Airlines announced in March that it has been named the official passenger airline of NASCAR. This first-of-its-kind multi-year partnership will afford NASCAR fans flights to 20-plus race cities, like far-away Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles. It also goes back to the aforementioned spring meeting with Allegiant, so Cabarrus Magazine readers should know the outcome by the time this issue hits the streets.
Next door to Concord Regional Airport is corporate construction on a monumental scale. At the entrance to the facility, and adjacent to Amazon, the Silverman Group is constructing spec buildings on 56 acres as part of Concord Airport Business Park’s Phase I. In the hopes of attracting industrial lessees, phases II and III will follow.
In conjunction with the construction in this corridor of the county, the NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and Cabarrus Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization (CRMPO) plan to widen the 2.6-mile section of Derita Road between Poplar Tent Road and Concord Mills Boulevard. The end result will be a four-lane road with a 23-foot median and 14-foot bicycle lanes.
So, if Concord Regional is experiencing pivotal growth, will a second runway be added? Cloutier says no and stresses that one runway is able to handle a large number of planes. It’s all about coordinating air traffic.
“You need a plane to land every three minutes for a second runway,” he says, but adds that the airport has a large tract of undeveloped land between it and Concord Mills Boulevard. In the meantime, improvements continue in the form of customer service, runway strengthening, hangar construction and airliner approaches.
Yes, Concord Regional is a smaller airport with fewer amenities than Charlotte-Douglas International. That’s appealing to many, however, especially those who fly often. And it’s right here in Cabarrus County.
“Charlotte is a great airport with a lot of great destinations,” Cloutier says. “We don’t want to compete. We’re an alternative to Charlotte.”
Article by: Kimberly Cassell
Rick Cloutier photo by Michael A. Anderson Photography
Rendering Courtesy: Concord Regional Airport