Aviation Week 2023: A Look at PHL Through the Years

In honor of Aviation Week, we reflect on the astounding growth of Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). From its modest inception on a 125-acre plot in 1925, PHL has expanded to an impressive 2,598 acres — a staggering 2,078% growth. This transformation underscores the airport's unwavering commitment to progress and operational excellence. This Aviation Week, we delve into PHL's infrastructural developments over the years and its persistent drive to innovate and ascend in the dynamic world of aviation.


In 1925, the City of Philadelphia set its sights on Hog Island, laying down the foundation for the creation of what would become the Philadelphia Municipal Airport. At this time, the vision for a significant airfield in the heart of the city began to take shape.


Philadelphia Municipal Airport truly came into its own in this decade. In 1940, the airport's terminal debuted, sprawling over an expansive 125,000 square feet. It was a beacon of modernity, boasting advanced features such as the groundbreaking baggage carousels. However, the specter of World War II brought changes. The U.S. Army Air Corps temporarily leased the airport during the war years, but by the decade's end, control returned to the city, setting the stage for future transformations.


The 1950s were a period of renaissance for the airport. A brand-new terminal, worth an impressive $15 million, was unveiled in 1953. Later in the decade, the airport received a prestigious designation, cementing its status as the Philadelphia International Airport.


These two decades marked a meteoric rise in the airport's stature. The 1960s saw the inauguration of Terminal B in 1968. The 1970s continued this momentum with Terminals C and D opening in 1973 and Terminal E following suit in 1977. This era was marked by rapid architectural expansion, further solidifying PHL's position on the global stage.


The '80s were a testament to PHL's adaptability and forward-thinking approach. This decade witnessed the embrace of new airline carriers, the introduction of expansive international routes, and the adoption of cutting-edge technology, notably the Automated Weather Observing Systems.


Beginning in the 1990s and stretching into the early 2000s, PHL underwent major infrastructural advancements. One significant change came in 1999 when Runway 8-26 was commissioned. Following that, in 2002, the airport experienced further developments with the opening of a new ramp control tower and an ARFF (Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting) training facility. The crescendo of development reached its pinnacle in 2003 with the unveiling of the state-of-the-art Terminal A-West. The momentum of infrastructural advancements carried on, and in 2009, Runway 17-35 was extended.


The 2010s ushered in an era of advancement for Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). At the start of the decade, the airport proudly showcased the $45 million Terminal E expansion and the newly revamped D/E baggage claim in 2010. Strategic planning took center stage in 2011 when the FAA's Record of Decision heralded the launch of the Airport’s Capacity Enhancement Program. Terminal F underwent significant refurbishments highlighted by its revamped hub in 2013 and a new baggage claim facility in 2016.

In 2014, PHL celebrated a major milestone with the commencement of a five-year project to extend Runway 27L by 1,500 feet and construct several new taxiways. This significant extension, completed by 2019, expanded the runway to 12,000 feet, accommodating the newest fleet of large aircraft favored for long-haul international routes. A significant pivot occurred in 2017 when PHL, in collaboration with multiple stakeholders, shifted its focus towards enhancing terminal, landside, and cargo development. That same year marked a landmark agreement as PHL and American Airlines pledged a staggering $900 million for infrastructural innovations. By the close of 2018, PHL's flight offerings swelled to nearly 450 daily non-stop flights to a myriad of destinations worldwide. In 2018, the airport purchased a 15-acre property in Lester, Tinicum Township, spotlighting an expansion in cargo handling.


In 2020, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) garnered a noteworthy boost in infrastructure funding, securing grants totaling $58.6 million, more than double its typical intake. This surge in financial backing facilitated pivotal projects like the Taxiway K Reconstruction and essential pavement repairs at the Terminal D/E apron to name a few.

By 2022, PHL's development landscape saw the addition of the $40 million Northwest apron near Cargo City's FedEx facilities, positioned on a former USPS facility site. This complements the airport’s 2018 purchase of a 15-acre property in Lester, Tinicum Township. This vision of expansion was further propelled by a $1.4 million grant from Pennsylvania's Multimodal Transportation Fund, targeted for the Tinicum Island Road Relocation Project, streamlining air cargo operations.


Media Contacts

Christine Ottow
Director of Strategic Communications
[email protected]
Heather Redfern
Public Affairs Manager
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