The mission of the Norfolk Airport Authority is to manage the operation, maintenance, development, and marketing of Norfolk International Airport to serve the air transportation needs of coastal Virginia and northeast North Carolina.
Norfolk International Airport History
As early as 1903, coastal Virginia was making a connection with aviation. The Virginian-Pilot based in Norfolk, Virginia was one of the first newspapers in the country to publish an eyewitness account of the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight.
In 1926, Norfolk citizens flew commercially for the first time on the Mitten Line, operated by Philadelphia Rapid Transit Air Service, Inc. Round-trip service to Washington and Philadelphia was available only a few months before high costs forced its discontinuance. In 1929, Ben Epstein, a veteran World War I flyer, started an air taxi service between Norfolk and Richmond from his airfield on Granby Street in Norfolk. That same year, the Luddington Line began the first daily scheduled service from Epstein’s field to Washington, D.C. Far from today’s routine business travel, a flight in 1929 was an occasion for family, friends, photographs and fine clothes. Women dressed in their finest climbed aboard the 10-passenger Fokker Trimotor and men followed in their broad brimmed hats.
A week later, Eddie Rickenbacker’s booming Eastern Airlines made its first appearance in Norfolk with twice daily round trips to Richmond, Virginia.
Commercial air travel hit a snag in 1932 when the Navy opposed the expansion of the Granby Street field because of its proximity to flying operations at Norfolk Naval Air Station. Commercial air flight operations moved to Glenrock Airport, but in 1932, the Great Depression had taken its effects on aviation and all commercial flights were suspended indefinitely. Norfolk was ground bound for the next five years.
In 1938, city-owned Truxton Manor Golf Course was converted to Norfolk Municipal Airport, complete with a 3,500-foot runway. This site would become southern Tidewater’s permanent home of commercial air travel. Penn Central Airlines (now United Airlines) used a renovated clubhouse for a passenger terminal. The first permanent terminal was complete by 1940.
With World War II, Norfolk Municipal Airport became a vital resource to the war effort. The Army Air Corps assumed control of airport operations between 1942 -1947, extending the runway and adding two more to handle the vastly increased number of flights with larger and larger aircraft. As the troops returned from the war, the Army Air Corps returned the Airport to the city’s domain, and commercial travel took off with two new airlines providing regular flights.
In 1948, Piedmont Airlines initiated flights. That same year, ground was broken for a larger, more modern terminal building.
By the early 1950s, there were more daily flights in Norfolk than New York’s La Guardia Airport.
In 1950, responsibility for the airport was turned over to the newly established Norfolk Port and Industrial Authority (NPIA) which could proudly call Norfolk Municipal Airport one of the finest in the nation and one of the busiest. In 1951, the new terminal was officially dedicated.
In the 1960s, the transition from propeller driven aircraft to jets gathered full steam. Norfolk Municipal Airport took on the new demands for longer and stronger runway and taxiway facilities easily, and jetliners here became the rule, not the exception. As a result, in 1968, the Airport was officially recognized as the air transportation center for the entire Coastal Virginia region, and became known as Norfolk Regional Airport. To prepare for exponential growth over the next three decades, NPIA developed a comprehensive master plan that would move the airport into the 21st century in full stride.
In 1974, the Airport dedicated its new, state-of-the-art terminal and additional land was secured for further expansion. In 1976, the Airport’s name was changed to Norfolk International Airport with the addition of Federal Customs facilities. New outbuildings housing the fire station, maintenance depot, ATC tower and more were also planned and came on line as needed. However, one of the challenges in expanding was capitalizing on the location of the Airport’s neighboring Botanical Garden, creating a beautiful buffer zone between the Airport and the outside world. Norfolk International Airport, surrounded by year-round beauty, has become a national role model for reconciling expanding air facilities and a delicate ecological sanctuary.
In the 1980s, many changes were taking place. A new general aviation facility opened and a new air cargo terminal was completed for all operations. Parking facilities were also expanded. Even the name of the supervising body changed in 1988 – from Norfolk Port and Industrial Authority to Norfolk Airport Authority.
Changes continued throughout the 1990s as Norfolk International prepared for growth. The air cargo terminal and parking facilities expanded and public areas of the passenger terminal were renovated. In 1991, Norfolk International completed a new concourse extension comprised of 10 additional gates, for a total of 24 gates. A new state-of-the-art fire station and new FAA air traffic control tower facility also began operation.
To take advantage of the ever-changing computer age, Norfolk International was the first airport to develop its own web site, and new Internet access booths were installed to let travelers plug in and log on for e-mail, banking, business, or reservations.
In addition to dining and retail additions and upgrades, in-airport advertising and service improvements, the Airport completed renovations of General Aviation Facilities, Phase I renovation of the Departures Terminal Lobby to include a 10,000 skylight complex, expanded TSA passenger screening checkpoint on Concourse B, terrazzo flooring in the center of the lobby and the length of both concourses. Phase II will include expansion of the TSA’s passenger screening checkpoint on Concourse A, new restrooms, upgraded concourse wall and lighting treatments, renovation of airline gate areas on both concourses and upgrades to lighting and flooring in the airline ticketing lobbies.
Norfolk Airport Authority continues to pursue funding for a parallel runway through the Federal Aviation Administration. The Airport’s Master Plan calls for a parallel runway of approximately 6,700 feet in length which would provide a concomitant capability to handle all of the commercial aircraft currently operating at Norfolk International. The runway will be located approximately 850 feet east of existing Runway 5/23. All construction will take place on existing Airport property; there are no plans to acquire additional property to accommodate the proposed runway.