Eastward view of Berry Field's original administration building.
Nashville's first airport was Hampton Field, which operated until 1921. It was replaced by Blackwood Field in the Hermitage community, which operated between 1921 and 1928. The first airlines to serve Nashville, American Airlines and Eastern Air Lines, flew out of Sky Harbor Airport in nearby Rutherford County.
By 1935 the need for an airport larger and closer to the city than Sky Harbor Airport was realized and a citizens' committee was organized by mayor Hilary Howse to choose a location. A 340-acre (1.4 km2) plot along Dixie Parkway (now Murfreesboro Road) composed of four farms was selected, and construction began in 1936 as one of the first major Works Progress Administration projects in the area. The airport was dedicated on November 1, 1936, as Berry Field, named after Col. Harry S. Berry, the Tennessee administrator for the Works Progress Administration. It officially opened in June 1937 with much fanfare, including parades, an air show, and an aerial bombardment display by the 105th Aero Squadron, which was based at the field. Passenger service began in mid-July through American Airlines and Eastern Airlines, both of which operated Douglas DC-3 aircraft. The new airport had three asphalt runways, a three-story passenger terminal, a control tower, two hangars and a beacon, and was constructed at a cost of 1.2 million dollars. In its first year, Berry Field served 189,000 passengers.
Bob Hoover, regarded as one of the greatest pilots to have ever lived, learned to fly at Berry Field.
Tennessee National Guard facilities at Berry Field during World War 2.
During World War II, the airfield was requisitioned by the United States Army Air Forces Air Transport Command as the headquarters for the 4th Ferrying Command for movement of new aircraft overseas. During this time, the Federal government expanded the airport to 1,500 acres (6.1 km2). At the end of the war, the airport was returned to the control of the city, with a number of facilities remaining for support of the tenant unit of the Tennessee National Guard.
Early jet service
The airport had been enlarged by the military during World War II, but in 1958 the City Aviation Department, started planning to expand and modernize the airport. Nashville gained its first scheduled jet service in 1961, the same year a new 145,000 square feet (13,500 m2) terminal opened off of Briley Parkway, west of runway 2L. For the first time more than half a million people passed through the airport when the six airlines that served Nashville carried 532,790 passengers. These renovations also included expansion of an existing runway, with 2L/20R being extended by 600 feet (180 m), and the construction of a new crosswind runway, 13/31. In 1962 Nashville became the first municipal airport in the United States with a public reading room when the Nashville Public Library opened a branch inside the terminal.
Modern terminal and hub status
By the 1970s the airport was again in need of expansion and modernization. In 1973 the newly created Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority (MNAA) finalized a master plan to coordinate the long-term growth of the airport along projected increases in needed passenger capacity. This plan included the building of a new terminal and a new parallel runway across Donelson Pike to handle increasing operations by reducing the time between consecutive takeoffs and landings.
In the early 1980s the MNAA commissioned Robert Lamb Hart, in association with the firm of Gresham, Smith and Partners, to design a modern terminal; construction began in 1984 and was completed in 1987. It had three main concourses and a smaller commuter concourse radiating from a distinctive three-story atrium. An international wing was built in Concourse A; the airport was renamed Nashville International Airport/Berry Field. It is now rare to see the "Berry Field" portion used, but the airport's IATA code (BNA) is short for Berry Field Nashville, and the military facilities at the airport are still commonly known by this name. In 1989 a new parallel runway (2R/20L) was opened for use.
American Airlines announced in 1985 that it would establish a hub at Nashville, investing $115 million to develop a new 15-gate concourse and applying for $50 million in federal funds to build a new 10,000-foot runway. The hub was intended to compete with Delta Air Lines, Eastern Airlines and Piedmont Airlines for north–south traffic in the eastern United States. American and its regional affiliate American Eagle officially opened their hub in Nashville in April 1986. Besides providing nonstop flights to many cities in the U.S. and Canada, American also operated a transatlantic flight from Nashville to London (flying into Gatwick Airport). The American hub was touted as a selling point in bringing companies such as Nissan and Saturn Corporation to the Nashville area. Nonetheless, the hub operated at a loss even during its heyday in the early 1990s, like the similarly sized hub American had at Raleigh/Durham.
American's service peaked in 1993 with 265 daily departures to 79 destinations, after which flights were gradually scaled back until the hub eventually closed in December 1995. American cited the aftermath of the early 1990s recession and the lack of local passengers as reasons for the closure. As American scaled down its operations, it subleased its gates to other carriers, largely in order to cover the debt used to construct the hub facilities, which American had guaranteed. Southwest Airlines quickly filled the void by seizing 54% of the Nashville market and making it a focus city.
In 2002, Embraer Aircraft Maintenance Services (EAMS) selected Nashville as the location for its Regional Airline Support Facility, which was built on the site of the demolished 1961 terminal building.
In October 2006, the Nashville Metropolitan Airport Authority started an extensive renovation of the terminal building, designed by Architectural Alliance of Minneapolis and Thomas, Miller & Partners, PLLC of Nashville, the first since the terminal opened 19 years prior. Phase one of the project involved updating and expanding food and vending services, improving flight information systems, and construction of a new consolidated security checkpoint for all terminals. Phase one was completed in 2009. Phase two of the project involved the expansion of the ticketing and check-in areas, the construction and renovation of bathrooms, and the renovation of the baggage claim areas. Completion of the second phase of the renovation project was completed in 2011. These renovations bring the total size of the terminal building to over 1,000,000-square-foot (93,000 m2). In addition to the terminal renovation and expansion, the renovations included expanding parking and a new rental car facility. The renovated terminal was named the Robert C. H. Mathews Jr. Terminal in honor of a MNAA board chair in 2011.
In addition to passenger amenities in the terminal and parking areas, the renovations included improvements to the airport's infrastructure. The largest project was the complete demolition and rebuilding of Runway 2L/20R, which was completed in August 2010. In addition to the rebuilding of Runway 2L/20R, Runway 2C/20C was closed from September through December 2010 for pavement and concrete rehabilitation. BNA's 91 acres (0.37 km2) of tarmac were also rehabilitated during this project after being funded entirely by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allotments.
Since 2011, Nashville has been experiencing major growth in both passenger numbers and new service. Total passengers reached a record 10.3 million in 2013, which surpassed the record set during the peak of the American Airlines hub in the early 1990s. On June 13, 2017, Nashville International Airport was named the fastest growing airport of its size and awarded the Airport Traffic Growth Award from anna.aero, an industry news and analysis organization. The award recognizes BNA's 11.2 percent growth in passenger traffic in 2016 in the mid-sized airport category (5 million – 20 million annual passengers).
In August 2017, British Airways announced nonstop service between Nashville and London (flying into Heathrow Airport), which began on May 4, 2018. This marked the return of transatlantic service at BNA for the first time since 1995, when American ended their London flight.
Even with Nashville no longer a connecting hub for a major airline, the number of passengers using BNA is expected to grow from 14 million to over 20 million by 2035. The MNAA leadership has a stated goal of adding more nonstop destinations, increasing cargo service, and adding more international flights. To accommodate the projected growth and aid with landing new nonstop flights, the Metro Nashville Airport Authority has announced a $1.2 billion renovation of the airport dubbed as BNA Vision. It is expected to be completed by 2023.
Projects in BNA Vision include:
- Renovating/expanding the baggage/ticketing/security areas and the central lobby
- Constructing a new Parking and Transportation Center
- Expanding Concourse D
- Constructing a state-of-the-art International Arrivals Building
- Constructing an on-site hotel, additional parking and administrative offices
- Expanding the Terminal apron
Other projects include the realignment of Donelson Pike to the east and a multi-modal transit link to a future Nashville light rail system. Construction began in 2017 on the new Parking and Transportation Center. To accommodate the immediate need for more international service, the existing international arrivals building was upgraded on an interim basis while the permanent IAB is planned and constructed.