When it comes to airport runways, longer is better.

In recent years, airports around the country and in other parts of the world have been extending their runways.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) received approval this year to create a longer runway.

Some advantages of doing so are being able to handle larger planes and those with more cargo or people on board, and planes carrying more fuel – which allows for longer non-stop flights.

Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) Executive Director Kevin Baker said that PTIA has plans to extend a runway as well. However, he added, it’s a very involved project that will be a long time coming.

For RDU, the Federal Aviation Administration determined that the new runway can be built at 10,639 feet – longer than the current 10,000 foot runway.

The head of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority stated earlier this year that adding the 600 feet of takeoff distance to RDU’s future runway will allow existing airlines to carry more passengers and cargo.

“It will also,” the head of the authority added, “provide greater economic opportunities for Triangle-area businesses and communities.”

Baker said that, at PTIA, longer runways are also an objective.

“Our Master Plan contemplates extensions to all of the runways actually,” Baker said.  “But, realistically, our primary runway – Runway 5R/23L – would be the most likely to be extended.”

Baker said there’s a whole lot more to extending a runway than just laying down pavement and calling it a day.   Airport runways are much more complicated than they appear. They include complex electronics and lighting systems, involve highly specific surface considerations and require a design that allows rainwater to roll off efficiently and allows the runway to remain useable under other weather conditions as well.

Baker said the exact cost of extending runways at PTIA isn’t known, but it will certainly cost “tens of millions of dollars.”

According to Baker, runway length requirements are determined by aircraft characteristics and “stage length” – the length of a flight from take-off to landing in a single leg.

Longer flights equal more fuel, which equals heavier planes – which may mean a need for a longer runway.

“Each airplane has different requirements for takeoff and landing length,” Baker said.

He added, “Fully loaded aircraft need more runway length, as they are heavier and need to generate extra lift.  More lightly loaded aircraft need less.  Takeoff weight and stage length – how far the aircraft will fly – are therefore closely related, because a longer stage length means more fuel, and fuel is heavy.”

Baker also explained why PTIA’s Master Plan calls for longer runways.

“While our 10,000- and 9,000-foot runways can handle any aircraft flying, if certain aircraft wanted to operate here at long stage lengths – like GSO to China or Japan, etc. – then longer length may be required,” Baker said.

In the case of RDU, the FAA cited information provided by Alaska Airlines in making its decision. The longer runway was needed to accommodate takeoff and landings for Alaska Airlines fleet of Boeing aircraft on the way to the other side of the country.   It means that airline and other airlines serving the airport will be able to carry more passengers, cargo and fuel to destinations.