Raleigh Exec Prepares for the Future: The Airport Is Taking Off

ABOUT THE SERIES: With new hangars and infrastructure development just completed south of the airport terminal and regional aviation rapidly changing, we’re taking a look over the next few weeks at how Raleigh Exec has developed in recent years and how the general aviation airport is now preparing to serve the Triangle Region for decades to come.

SANFORD, N.C. — When airport director Bob Heuts leaves his office, walking past large businesses before turning into long rows of airplane hangars, he almost can’t recall what Raleigh Exec looked like when he first arrived. Or, for that matter, what it was like just a few years ago.

It’s been months since the latest construction project wrapped up in that area commonly known as South Development and the landscape is much different. To start with, there are brand-new taxiways — essentially, wide roads that move planes between their hangars and the runway — and along those taxiways, there soon will be many new hangars on land now ready for development. The project included a storm water management system with new water and sewer lines, certainly not the most glamorous addition, but a critical piece of infrastructure that makes the airport function better and helps attract more companies looking to do business in the flourishing Triangle Region.

That $5.3 million project wasn’t just cosmetic or speculative. It was essential to keep up with current demand. “That project was needed for so many reasons,” says Heuts. “To start with, we had a long waiting list for hangar space — and, actually, we will still have a waiting list even with the new construction. But we also needed to improve traffic flow for planes moving around the airport and make sure we maintain a safe environment. We’re an airport. Safety is always the priority.”

South Development hasn’t been the only major expansion in recent years. Back at his office, Heuts points in the opposite direction where some of the largest corporate hangars have just been built. Not long ago, that area was developed with seven shovel-ready corporate sites to accommodate hangars 15,000 square feet or larger. More infrastructure was part of that project, as well: new water and sewer service, a public fire suppression system and fiber internet service. That initial phase of the airport’s North Terminal hangars will be built-out by the end of next year and already is home to aircraft as large as a Gulfstream 550, one of the largest commercial jets in operation. With that first section fully leased, phase two is in the design phase and the airport is starting to look for construction funding.

That’s a detailed and technical way of saying this: Raleigh Exec is taking off.

You also can see it in the statistics. When “North Carolina: The State of Aviation” was released earlier this year by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh Exec was credited with $52.8 million in economic output annually and supporting 430 jobs. And those figures were based on data from 2021, a year still suppressed by the global pandemic. Still, the number of aircraft based at the airport rose to 207 from 173 just two years ago.

“I guess to some degree, we’re ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” Heuts says about the growing facility in a rural section of Lee County, just off U.S. Highway 1 between Raleigh and Sanford. “But this is a vibrant, growing airport in a region where aviation is getting busier every single day. You can see it nearby at Raleigh-Durham International, where passenger service is growing incredibly. That gets a lot of attention, as it should, and it also means many of their general aviation clients with smaller, private planes are looking for other options. A lot of them are coming here.”

With the regional economy and local aviation only accelerating, Heuts expects that Raleigh Exec will be developing constantly to accommodate current and future growth, all while keeping an eye on safety.

Some of those will be smaller projects. Right now, the airport is taking down trees at both ends of the runway to provide aircraft with an even safer descent and beginning construction on bypass taxiways that will allow planes needing immediate runway access to move around student pilots and other aircraft that don’t need to take off right away.

Others will be larger projects. That includes expanding the size of the airport to meet projected demand and protect the safety of future developments around the airport.

Becca Jackson Gallas, North Carolina’s Director of Aviation, says that will be good for the airport and good for the entire region. “There’s no doubt that aviation across the Triangle will continue to grow and that Raleigh Exec is critical to the economic success of the region and our entire state,” she says. “It’s in an ideal location to expand and that additional capacity will be desperately needed over the years and decades to come. Raleigh Exec has always been a great partner, very thoughtful with their expansion projects, and we’re looking forward to working with them to meet the growing needs of our state.”

With all of that change on the way, one thing seems certain: Over the coming years, when Heuts leaves his office to take frequent walks around the airport grounds, things may look a little different just about every single time.

NEXT: What Raleigh Exec is planning now to prepare for the future.

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About Raleigh Exec
Billed as a premier corporate gateway to the Research Triangle, Raleigh Exec Jetport is a general aviation airport serving corporate and recreational flights in a region of central North Carolina that includes Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill, Sanford and the Research Triangle Park. Raleigh Exec operates on 700 acres off of U.S. 1, just 15 miles from the Raleigh Outer Beltline, and is home to corporate aircraft, the North Carolina Forest Service, many aviation-related businesses and one of the nation’s largest and most respected flying clubs. More information is available at raleighexec.com.

Raleigh Exec’s terminal, completed in 2019, is one of many airport expansion projects that began with T-hangars opening in 2016 and continues today. (Photo by Chip Pate)
With development over the years to increase capacity and services, Raleigh Exec regularly welcomes the largest corporate jets, including some based at the Triangle Region’s general aviation airport. (Photo by Chip Pate)