How Charlotte Became American Airlines’ Second Busiest Hub

American Airlines may be based at Dallas/Fort Worth, but Charlotte Douglas International Airport serves as its secondary hub. Even though Charlotte is a prominent airport, it historically didn’t have as much traffic compared to its counterparts across the United States. Additionally, it doesn’t have as much of a global presence as several of its peers. So, how did the North Carolinian facility become a favorite of the carrier?

American Airlines Charlotte
American Airlines has a strong presence in Charlotte. Photo: American Airlines

Ramping up operations

Just before the global health crisis, American Airlines proudly achieved the milestone of providing 700 daily scheduled departures from Charlotte. The airline grew its operations to serve over 140 destinations from the airport.

The rise of this hub can be traced back to the services that Piedmont Airlines has been operating for several decades. This airline is now a subsidiary of American, but years before it came under its holdings, it was doing great work for Charlotte’s network.

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Decades in the making

TheStreet highlights how June 1987 was an important month for Charlotte. This period was when Piedmont debuted its Boeing 767 aircraft on a service from the city to London Gatwick. This trip was the first direct transatlantic operation from the airport. This was a groundbreaking event that sparked new opportunities for the hub.

A former chief pilot at Charlotte, Charlie Boswell, noted that it was a significant move for the airline to operate a widebody. Ultimately, it allowed a small domestic carrier to compete against the major players.

Piedmont Airlines Boeing 767
The Boeing 767 was a game-changer for Piedmont. Photo: Ken Fielding via Flickr

Piedmont now had another platform to continue growing thanks to this feat. Before this, in 1979, it started to connect a few key services into Charlotte. It subsequently began collaborating with airport engineer Jerry Orr, who soon became a director at the hub. He looked after the planning, financing, and construction of critical features that would help the airline further grow.

Soon, a terminal, runway, and maintenance base were under development. Altogether, Orr had the vision to see what better connectivity would do for the city. So, he did what he could to facilitate the progress.

Maximizing opportunities

The growth of the airport went hand in hand with the city’s financial development over the years. For instance, several institutions in the area, such as First Union and NationsBank, merge into national corporations.

Piedmont integrated into US Airways (then known as USAir) in 1989. Subsequently, in 2013, US also had a merger of its own, this time with American Airlines.

When visiting Charlotte during the year of the merger, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker spoke about the impact that airlines can have on the broader community. Undoubtedly, his firm recognizes this process and has continued to focus on its partnership with the airport since.

The executive said the following, as shared by TheStreet:

“The business community can attract more and more companies, and once more companies come, we can {offer} more flights.”

Embraer ERJ-145 Getty
Piedmont operates Embraer ERJ-145 regional jets for American Airlines. Photo: Getty Images

The journey continues

Altogether, Piedmont’s operations at Charlotte are an example of how building on opportunities at a particular airport can turn it into a prominent hub. Other airlines have seen success with this approach over the decades. For instance, Delta relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, from Monroe, Louisiana, in the 1940s after recognizing the prospects of the area.

In 2019, Charlotte was the 11th business airport in the US when it comes to passenger traffic. Over 50 million travelers passed through the hub last year. Meanwhile, Piedmont still operates several domestic operations for American, under the American Eagle brand. Therefore, local services will continue to play a significant role for AA during the decade ahead.

What are your thoughts about Charlotte’s rise as a principal airport for American Airlines? Have you traveled through the airport over the years? Let us know what you think of the hub in the comment section.