Birmingham International Airport is the major airport that serves Birmingham, Alabama and Central Alabama. A joint civili-military facility, it is located five miles (8 km) northeast of downtown Birmingham, near the interchange of I-20 and I-59. BHM served 3,222,689 passengers in 2007, and is the largest and busiest airport in the state of Alabama. It has also been mentioned by Atlanta talk show host Clark Howard as a cheap alternate airport for Atlanta travelers due to the presence of Southwest Airlines. Birmingham International Airport currently offers 87 daily departures to 28 cities nonstop and 35 cities direct.
The Southern Museum of Flight is also located at the Birmingham International Airport, immediately adjacent on the east side of the North-South runway.
The Air National Guard has a base which includes nine KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft assigned to the 117th Air Refueling Wing (117 ARW), an Air Mobility Command (AMC)-gained unit of the Alabama Air National Guard. The 117 ARW was previously designated as the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Group (117 TRG) and later as the 117th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (117 TRW), a Tactical Air Command (TAC) / Air Combat Command (ACC)-gained unit operating the RF-4C Phantom II reconnaissance aircraft. There is also an Army Aviation Support Facility for the Alabama Army National Guard at the airport.
An aircraft modification facility, originally built during World War II, is presently operated by Pemco Aeroplex and owned by Nader Banilohi, with much of its recent work in support of the U.S. Air Force KC-135 fleet. There are also two fixed base operators and numerous corporate hangars. During World War II the airfield was used by the United States Army Air Force's Third Air Force.
Southwest Airlines carried the most passengers through BHM in 2007; transporting 1.14 million passengers, 35.6% of total BHM passengers. In March 2008 the order of carriers (including regional jet partners) for the 274,711 passengers carried that month was as follows: Southwest, Delta, US Airways, American, Continental, United Express, Northwest, and ExpresssJet.
The Birmingham International Airport consists of a single terminal with two concourses radiating from the curved common terminal area which is outside the TSA security checkpoints and includes check-in, baggage claim, and ground transportation. The terminal reflects the International style of architecture popular for American commercial and institutional buildings from the 1950s through the late 1970s. Large floor to ceiling plate glass windows form curtain walls on the departure level of the terminal with horizontal bands of repetitive white architectural panels above and below. A slight departure from typical International style, the upper band of panels is decorated with raised circles of four sizes, two circles per size per panel. The roof is flat over the terminal and concourses; a series of steel columns painted white with stay cables for the terminal awning project from the roof. An enclosed white-clad Observation Deck juts out from the airside terminal face at a sharp angle between Concourses B and C. On the airside of the terminal, a large horizontal white sign with teal lettering identifies the city as Birmingham.
Concourse B and C are radically different than the terminal structure, consisting of straight radial spokes clad with white panels. Concourse C includes a circular end which invokes the appearance of the terminal, Concourse B terminates at a flat wall. The Concourse walls have relatively few windows, typically at waiting and dining areas. The presence of multiple shops, restrooms and service areas reduces the need for windows in the concourses. Jetways are used for the majority of the gates and aircraft, though United Express, ExpressJet, and Delta Connection use stairs leading to the tarmac to board flights on regional jets. Passenger gates and services are located on the second floor with airside baggage handling and aircraft servicing on the ground level.
The interior of the terminal was renovated in the early 1990s at a cost of $50.4 million which included new floor surfaces, lighting, wall coverings, renovated public spaces, and public art. The flooring is a mixture of carpet and large tiles, with tile primarily in the heavily used terminal spaces, dining areas, and restrooms. Primary colors are off-white, beige and gray. Numerous planters are positioned in hallways.
Terminal expansion and modernization currently in the design stage is expected to result in significant changes to the appearance of the terminal and concourses.
Several pieces of artwork are displayed within the Terminal and on the airport grounds. Approaching the airport along Messer Airport Boulevard, travelers pass a series of white three dimensional triangular shapes placed on raised posts along the shoulder and median of the roadway with a mid-span folded crease to suggest the wings of birds in flight or aircraft. The two-story open space between the baggage claim carousels and the exterior entrances is filled with internationally recognized artist Larry Kirkland’s mixed sculptural work Birmingham Beacons. The centerpieces of this work are two tall steel towers, recalling Birmingham’s heavy industrial heritage, carved with images from nature, science, leisure and cultural activities that reflect the local environment and people. A granite map of Alabama, a small red stone house with quotes from local residents, and a series of suspended objects round out the piece. The viewing area between Concourses B and C displays whimsical sculptures of fruits and vegetables depicted as airplanes. Across from the viewing area is a display of the dedication plaque for the 1962 Birmingham Air Terminal and the large analogue clock with blinking stars which once hung above the main entrance doorway of the 1962 terminal and, with an adjacent sign, welcomed arriving passengers to Birmingham as they exited the terminal. Modified from its original appearance, the clock now includes photos of the current terminal, the 1931 terminal, and Birmingham’s Moorish style Terminal Station which served the railroads of Birmingham until being demolished in 1969.
The first commercial air service to Birmingham began in 1928 by St. Tammy and Gulf Coast Airways, operating through Roberts Field on the west side of Birmingham on a route from Atlanta, Georgia to New Orleans, Louisiana. Delta Air Service began service to Birmingham in late 1929 with six seat Travel Air airplanes along a route stretching from Love Field in Dallas, Texas to Birmingham. When American Airways (now American Airlines) began their Atlanta, Georgia to Forth Worth, Texas route, Birmingham was not included in the route because their Ford Tri-Motor aircraft could not land at Roberts Field. As a result of this development, Birmingham began construction of a new airport, Birmingham Municipal Airport on the current Birmingham International Airport site.
The new airport opened with great public fanfare on May 31, 1931 with a single two story, white, Georgian style terminal and a single runway aligned in an east-west orientation. This terminal stood immediately east of the still standing 1962 terminal. No remains of the 1931 terminal or landscaping are visible. With the addition of American Airlines in 1931 and Eastern Airlines in 1934, air traffic increased enough to warrant a second runway.
World War II saw the airport leased to the United States Army Air Forces for $1 a year to support national defense. Birmingham Army Airfield was a part of The airfield was assiged to the Third Air Force as fighter base. It was commanded by the 310th Army Air Force Base Unit. The Army Air Force considerably improved the airport with land acquisitions, paving of additional taxiways, and construction of a control tower and aircraft modifications facility south of the terminal (now operated by Pemco).
After the airport was returned to city control in August 1948, Southern Airways began service to the airport. By March 1951, four runways were in operation, today’s Runways 6/24 and 18/36, as well as additional runways at approximately 45/225 degrees on the north side of Runway 6/24 and 85/270 degrees primarily south of Runway 6/24. The runway at 45/225 degrees is now largely removed, though a paved portion remains crossing taxiway F near the Alabama Air National Guard facilities and is used as a location for airport equipment and helicopter landing/parking. The runway at 85/270 is also removed for the most part, with remaining segments making up taxiway A5 and a portion of taxiway F east of Runway 18/36.
In the 1950s, today’s Runway 6/24 was lengthened to and service was started to Birmingham by Capitol Airways. Capitol’s merger with United Air Lines resulted in the initiation of jet service to Birmingham with the Sud Aviation Caravelle.
Continued growth in passenger traffic in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in the construction of a second passenger terminal and a new air traffic control tower. The second passenger terminal was built adjacent to the west side of the original 1931 terminal and was dedicated February 11, 1962 as the Birmingham Air Terminal. Charles H. McCauley Associates was the supervising architect and Radar & Associates was the designing architect. This terminal consisted of a single story building of repeated bays with steeply pitched roofs flanking a wider, higher center bay at the ticket counter area at the south end of the building, and a long flat roofed northern section which hosted the ground-level aircraft gates. This building is still utilized for various non-passenger uses such as equipment storage and material handling.
In 1973 the current semi-circular terminal was completed west of the 1962 terminal and air traffic control tower with 15 aircraft gates and a 1,600 space parking deck and passenger traffic moved to the new terminal from the 1962 terminal. Allegheny Air (now US Airways) began service from Birmingham to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the late 1970s. Deregulation of the airline industry saw airlines such as Com Air, Florida Express, People Express, Air New Orleans, L'Express Airlines, and most importantly Southwest Airlines enter the Birmingham market. With the introduction of flights to Canada and Mexico, the official name of the airport was changed to Birmingham International Airport on October 20, 1993
By the early 2000s, Birmingham had constructed a new tall control tower and completed significant improvements to the air cargo areas. The 1960s blue air traffic control tower which stood between the 1962 and 1973 passenger terminals was demolished in 2001. In 2006, Birmingham International Airport celebrated its 75th year of serving the central Alabama region. In July 2007, a runway expansion to runway 6/24 was completed and dedicated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Now at in length, runway 6/24 provides enough runway length for a fully-loaded and fueled Boeing 747 to land or takeoff in Birmingham.
On June 23, 2008, Birmingham city mayor Larry Langford announced his proposal to rename the airport from Birmingham International Airport to the Fred L. Shuttlesworth International Airport in honor of former civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth. Mayor Langford is expected to meet with Birmingham Airport Authority to discuss his proposal. On July 16, 2008, Mayor Langford and the Birmingham Airport Authority voted to change the name of the airport from the Birmingham International Airport to the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport after the former civil rights activist. The Airport Authority must still get approval from the FAA. The name change will cost about $300,000.