By Adam Sichko
Senior Reporter

Nashville Business Journal
May 16, 2024

Doug Kreulin, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, describes the preferred site for a second BNA terminal during a May 15 MNAA Board of Commissioners meeting.
Doug Kreulin, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, describes the preferred site for a second BNA terminal during a May 15, 2024, MNAA Board of Commissioners meeting.

A second terminal at Nashville International Airport would land just south of the existing one, under a concept endorsed by the airport’s board on May 15.

The board of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority tagged a 309-acre property as the preferred destination for the multibillion-dollar terminal, giving the go-ahead for airport officials and consultants to more fully scope everything that has to happen to build a terminal on that site.

The projected need for another terminal, adding to the one that continues to expand, speaks to the years of record-setting passenger growth at the airport — and forecasts of even more activity many years into the future in parallel with Greater Nashville’s increasing population and job gains.

The airport will ferry close to 24 million passengers this fiscal year, a number that airport officials expect to hit 30 million when the expansion of the current terminal opens in 2028. Officials forecast that the annual passenger flow will be 35 million by 2034, when the second terminal could open.

“The terminal behind us is built to be comfortable handling 35 million. Can it do more? Yes. But it will be crowded and people will be fussing,” CEO Doug Kreulen told the board. “We don’t really have more room to grow in this current terminal. The reason we’re talking about it right now in ’24 is because you’ve got to start turning on switches to get things in place to where 10 years from today, we’re doing another ribbon-cutting on a new terminal.”

BNA Passenger Growth through 2024-25

Other finalist had ‘fatal flaws’

The site search began with eight options, which was whittled to two before the May 15 board meeting. That other contender involved attaching a second terminal to the existing one and building concourses toward Interstate 40.

Consultants identified a number of issues: There wouldn’t be enough curb space for pick-ups and drop-offs of that many passengers. There was limited room for expansion before the new terminal would just run out of space to add more gates. Some fliers would face an “extreme walking distance” from security to their gates. Exit 216A, currently the airport’s main entrance, would have to tunnel under the new terminal, along with other roadwork that would involve tearing up the entrance to the airport —likely undoing work happening right now.

“I’d describe it as fatally flawed,” consultant Steve Martin told the board. Martin is an executive adviser with Paslay Group, which the airport authority is using to guide the terminal creation process.

The ideal site, labeled “Site 4,” is on the other side of a runway from the existing terminal.

“We’re really comfortable with Site 4,” Martin said. “It can be delivered in the timeframe needed and it can be expanded … that is the key thing.”

Initially, the new terminal would hold roughly 20 gates, and it would be located in the lower-right portion of the green area in the image below. Expansion beyond that would occur in phases, moving in a counter clockwise direction around the site.

By comparison, the other finalist site could only fit 16 gates maximum,” and that is stretching it, trust me,” Martin said.

Just because consultants believe for now that Site 4 has no “fatal flaws,” it’s far from being free of challenges.

One of them is the fact that the Federal Aviation Administration has funding to build a new air traffic control tower, replacing the current 30-year-old tower.

Construction hasn’t started yet, but the spot the FAA has earmarked for the new tower is within thepart of Site 4 where the terminal would be built — which would complicate designs and access, Kreulen said.

Discussions with the FAA will intensify now that Nashville airport officials are digging deeper into planning for the new terminal. Kreulen said there are a number of other spots where the FAA could locate the new tower.

Currently, the National Guard leases 30% of Site 4 from the airport authority, through 2045. Construction of the terminal would work its way around Site 4 to eventually reach the National Guard location when its lease ends, Kreulen said. (The Guard has long eyed a move to Smyrna).

Also leasing space on Site 4 are some rental car companies as well as a number of private aviation companies. There’s ample room on airport grounds to relocate all of them, Martin said, though the airport will need a detailed plan for those moves and likely will need to buy-out those tenants from their current leases. Those alternative sites also will need several studies done and extensive land-work to make them level.

“At almost every major airport, this is a common scenario to move aviation users around,” Martin said. “It’s usually worked out on a pretty straightforward business basis with those guys.”

Currently, a runway separates the existing terminal with Site 4. In all likelihood, the runway would be closed and decommissioned to more easily link the two terminals, Kreulen said.

Pending further evaluation, the board could adopt an initial terminal financing plan and construction schedule by year’s end. The airport authority, which does not receive funding from Metro, would issue bonds to finance the terminal construction — backed by its revenue from fees paid by airlines ands rental car users, as well as on-site parking income and concessions.

This story was originally published by the Nashville Business Journal on May 16, 2024.

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