Nashville’s first airport opened in June 1937, culminating a two-year process that began with the selection of a 340-acre site located along the Dixie Highway (now Murfreesboro Road) and built as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.
Named in honor of Colonel Harry S. Berry, state administrator of the WPA, Berry Field consisted of a terminal building, two hangars, a 4,000-foot concrete runway and a flashing beacon. The three letter identifier BNA stands for Berry Field Nashville. American and Eastern airlines were the first air carriers to serve Nashville, and within the year, 189,000 passengers had used the facilities.
During World War II, Berry Field became the military base for the 4th Ferrying Command, and the federal government added additional acreage for its military operations. In 1946, after the war ended, the military returned a 1,500-acre airport site to the city.
With the rapid growth of air transportation, Berry Field's facilities became obsolete, and in 1958, the City Aviation Department began plans to expand the airport. A new, 145,900-square-foot passenger terminal opened in 1961, a year after the inaugural flight of Nashville's first jet-powered service. Six airlines were then serving Nashville, and airline passengers exceeded half a million people (532,790). In 1963, the existing Runway (2L-20R) was extended by an additional 600 feet, and construction began on a new crosswind Runway (13-31).
The growth in air travel brought on new challenges and opportunities related to operating an airport as a business. In 1968, a citizens group, led by the late John C. Tune, garnered public and political support for creating a non-governmental entity that would be self-financing and assure Nashvillians of a safe, efficient and modern airport, well into the future. In 1969, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing the Airport Authority to be created. In 1970, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville/Davidson County formed the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority (MNAA), replacing the City Aviation Department.
The Airport Authority was a prototype organization in the aviation industry and continues to serve as a national model for other communities. The Authority is a self-supporting public corporation that manages, owns and operates the airport, separate from Metro Government, and is responsible for development of commerce and industry through air transportation.
The Authority completed a Master Plan in 1973 for long-term growth of the airport. The plan provided for existing terminal expansion, a new terminal and a new parallel runway east of Donelson Pike to meet future demand.
At the same time, the Authority moved ahead with plans for a general aviation airport focused on serving smaller aircraft. In 1972, a site study commenced with the Federal Aviation Administration approving a site in Cockrill Bend in West Nashville. Construction began in 1983 and the airport (JWN), named for John C. Tune, opened in 1986.
In 1977, the airport consisted of 3,300 acres with three runways. The passenger terminal was renovated and expanded to 189,000 square feet. Realizing that further expansion would be needed to meet accelerating passenger demand, the Authority updated the 1973 Master Plan in 1980 and began an environmental assessment for a new terminal. The Authority unveiled designs for a new terminal and started site preparation in 1984. Airport revenue bonds in the amount of $128.5 million financed the terminal construction.
In 1985, an additional $76 million in airport revenue bonds were issued to fund terminal program expansion. In 1987, the airport dedicated the new 750,000-square-foot passenger terminal, the Robert C. H. Mathews Jr. Terminal, named in memory of the long-time Airport Authority board chair. A year later, construction started on the new parallel runway east of Donelson Pike, connecting to the existing runways by a taxiway bridge spanning Donelson Pike.
In 1988, the airport's name was changed to Nashville International Airport to reflect present and future international air service goals, and a new parallel runway (2R-20L) was dedicated in 1989.
Today, Nashville International Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in North America. It continues to be the gateway to Music City, a major transportation hub, an engine of enormous economic activity and a significant employer. In 2019, nearly 18.3 million passengers flew into and out of this airport, marking the seventh consecutive year of record-breaking growth. It is currently served by 15 airlines and offers 540 daily commercial flights to 75 nonstop destinations.
In terms of economic significance to Middle Tennessee, BNA generated more than $7.1 billion in total economic impact in 2018 alone, supported more than 67,000 jobs in the region and produced more than $392 million in state, local and federal taxes.
Building The Future with BNA Vision
By 2041, the population of the Greater Nashville Area is expected to surpass 2.5 million people. By 2023, BNA passenger traffic will grow from 18 million today to more than 23 million. BNA is transforming with a dynamic expansion plan called BNA Vision, a bold initiative designed to get in front of this growth and maintain Nashville International as a world-class airport for the future of Nashville. It’s the type of innovative undertaking needed to accommodate Middle Tennessee’s booming population and the airport’s record-breaking passenger increases.
By 2024, completed projects will include additional parking garages, new Concourse D and terminal wings, expanded central terminal and security checkpoint, a state-of-the-art International Arrivals Facility, a reimagined concessions program, an airport administration building, on-site hotel, an enhanced airport roadway system and potential transit connection. Take a virtual 360-degree tour, view renderings and watch the BNA Vision video at BNAvision.com.