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Triangle

RDU flights take a nosedive 

Last summer, Raleigh-Durham International Airport was flying high. Its 243 daily departures in July represented a 9% increase from the previous year. Since then, it has lost altitude, giving back all it gained and then some. This July, RDU had just 219 daily departures, and some of those are scheduled to end soon.

Airlines are cutting back nationwide, but RDU has felt the pinch more than most of the nation’s 100 largest airports. Airlines have planned their schedules through November, and compared with last November, available seats on planes flying from RDU will drop 15% and flights will drop 19%, according to British aviation consultant OAG Worldwide Ltd. Only 14 of the top 100 airports will lose a higher percentage of seats, and only 10 will lose a higher percentage of flights. The departure of flights and seats has given regional economic developers pause. Companies consider airline connections when deciding where to move or expand. “If we are losing air service at RDU, that hinders our competitive position,” says Charles Hayes, CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, an economic-development nonprofit. “And if it goes on long-term, we’ll be adversely affected.”

High fuel costs may have hit RDU harder than other airports. Many of its planes carry only about 50 passengers, and those jets have high per-passenger costs, says David Beckerman, vice president of analytical services for OAG. “All things being equal, you’d rather operate a larger plane when fuel is high.”

Some of RDU’s rise and fall also can be attributed to the arrival and retreat of Houston-based ExpressJet. It started service at RDU in May 2007 with 13 daily departures but has struggled since then. It said in July that it will end its three remaining flights at RDU in September. The presence of Southwest Airlines, and the downward pressure it puts on fares, may discourage other airlines from keeping service at RDU. “Carriers don’t want to be where revenues are a little low,” Beckerman says. “Charlotte is more attractive. Richmond is more attractive. Roanoke is more attractive.”

Airport officials are taking the long view. Passenger boardings through the first four months of 2008 were up slightly from last year, and it’s not the first time airlines have cut flights during an economic slump. “We have been in similar situations before,” spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin says.

Police Coverage

Durham officials say the Police Department was just following the or- ders of a state employee, former District Attorney Mike Nifong, when it charged three Duke University lacrosse players with rape (cover story, January). But the state subsequently declared the players innocent, and they want to make the city pay, as do even players who weren’t charged. By early July, Durham had spent $832,244 to defend itself against lawsuits arising from the case. Liability insurance covers payments between $500,000 and $5.5 million, Assistant City Attorney Kim Grantham says. The players who were charged originally demanded $30 million.

 

DURHAM — New Jersey-based Merck plans to spend $300 million to expand its vaccine factory and add at least 150 jobs, for a total of 400. Construction is scheduled to begin this winter and end in 2011.

HENDERSONClarcor plans to close its Purolator air-filter plant here this month, idling more than 130. The Franklin, Tenn.-based company blamed high fuel prices and low demand. It will shift production to Pittston, Pa.

DURHAMPatheon will move its headquarters here by the end of the year and set up a research center in Research Triangle Park. The Toronto-based drug developer is moving to accommodate U.S. customers and will employ about 100 in the region.

CARYEngineous Software, which develops programs for product design, agreed to be purchased by French software developer Dassault Systemes for $40 million. The deal was expected to close in July. Some of Engineous’ 90 employees could lose their jobs.

CARY — George Bednarz will become president and chief operating officer of Yellow Pages publisher R.H. Donnelley Sept. 1. Peter McDonald, 57, will retire. Bednarz, 54, is vice president of enterprise operations.

RALEIGH — Peter Scott, 58, will retire by September as Progress Energy’s chief financial officer. Mark Mulhern, 48, senior vice president for finance, will replace him.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARKAldagen filed plans for an initial public offering of stock that it hopes will raise $80.5 million. The company employs 18 developing medical treatments based on adult stem cells.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Danish chemical maker Cheminova is moving its U.S. headquarters here this month from Wayne, N.J. It will employ about 20.

DURHAMFreudenberg Nonwovens laid off about 50 employees at its U.S. headquarters here, leaving it with about 230. The German textile maker blamed high petroleum costs and weak demand.

MORRISVILLE — AMR, parent of American Airlines and American Eagle, will cut 10 flights to four cities from Raleigh-Durham International Airport in November. The Fort Worth, Texas-based company blamed rising jet fuel costs.