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, and 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. In 1993, the Airport Authority, with input from all airport constituencies, completed a comprehensive 30-Year Community Aviation Plan, which will be updated again in late 2012.
The aviation plan will reflect today’s air travel and the growth of the Mid-South region, yet still keep those core values that were first displayed in the Berry Field days. The goal has always remained the same: providing services and facilities that meet the needs of the airports’ passengers and region. Today, the airport strives to personify a culture and customer service philosophy called the Nashville Airports Experience, with the goal of making sure Nashville International and John C. Tune airports are “great airports for passengers, business partners and employees.”
The philosophy is reflected in continued growth. Nashville International Airport is served by 12 airlines and three cargo carriers. With more than 14.1 million passengers visiting each year, BNA serves 450 flights daily to more than 50 nonstop markets. The Robert C. H. Mathews Jr. Terminal, named in memory of the long-time Airport Authority board chair, accommodates visitors with 888,000 square feet of space.