This is significant and welcome. Charlotte/Douglas International Airport’s fourth runway — that’s now three parallel north/south and a crosswind — opened yesterday. This will reduce delays into and out of CLT — you’ll spend less time sitting on a plane waiting to takeoff from CLT, less time circling waiting to land at CLT, less time sitting on a plane in the “penalty box” waiting to take off at a certain to limit the flow of traffic into CLT. This is especially true in bad weather, as the new runways is spaced to allow planes to simultaneously make instrument landings on all three parallel runways.

While the UPoR’s article is decent, a little more background is warranted.

CLT is the world’s ninth busiest airport, as measured by takeoffs and landings. As such, more runway capacity is a good. And it’s been a long time in coming: The extra runway was initially recommended in an April 1991 (!) FAA study. That year, CLT handled 441,000 operations (takeoffs and landings). In 2008, takeoffs and landings at CLT came to over 536,000.

And at $325 million, the new 9,000-foot runway comes at a relatively modest price compared to some other runway projects that have been built lately (cough, ATL at $1.2 billion, cough).

Now the flip side: CLT is approaching being built out. There’s not a whole lot that can easily be done to significantly improve the airfield’s (as opposed to terminal) capacity. The cheap and easy upgrades — parallel taxiways and high speed turnoffs on the runways that didn’t already have them — were added about 15 years ago. Most anything that comes hereafter airfield-wise (aside from lengthening Taxiway D) will be difficult and/or pricey, and may bring only incremental benefits.

Bonus fun: The official FAA airport diagram is available here (pdf file). The new runway (18R/36L) is on the left.