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
From its modest beginnings in 1938 to its current status as the region’s primary link to the global air transportation network, Norfolk International Airport continues to grow and adapt to meet ever-changing aviation needs.
The footprint of the airport encompasses approximately 1,000 acres of land with facilities situated in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Located adjacent to Norfolk Botanical Garden, the Airport is a national role model for reconciling expanding air facilities in a delicate ecological sanctuary.
Norfolk International Airport presently ranks in the top 13% of the country’s airports in terms of passengers served annually, with nearly 3.9 million passengers and nearly 77,000 flight operations in 2019. One of the most powerful economic generators in the region, a recent Economic Impact Study estimates that the airport directly and indirectly generated over 17,300 jobs with a payroll of $775 million, with GDP in excess of $1.3 billion and total economic output of $2.2 billion in 2019.
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 Ludington 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 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.
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.
Progress 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.
A pioneer in 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.
Norfolk Airport Authority continues a multi-phase process to improve airport terminals, concourses and the general aviation terminal in addition to dining and retail additions and upgrades, and in-airport advertising and customer service improvements. Renovations and improvements to the facilities and passenger experience will continue for the next several years. The Authority has updated the Master Plan to include projects that will extend the useful life and value of the Airport to meet the air transportation needs of the region over the next 20 years.