The History of Palm Beach International Airport
The Palm Beach
County Department of Airports operates and maintains the Palm Beach
International Airport (PBIA), the Palm Beach Park Airport in Lantana, Palm
Beach County Glades Airport in Pahokee and the North County Airport on the Bee
Line Highway - north of PGA Boulevard. PBIA is the center for all commercial
air carrier service into Palm Beach County. The Lantana Airport and North
County Airport are general aviation airports serving private and corporate
airplanes. The Glades Airport serves the general aviation needs of the Glades
Commercially, PBIA had its beginning in 1936 when it was known as
Morrison Field. It was named for Miss Grace K. Morrison, who was a pioneer in
the early planning and organizing which culminated in the establishment of the
field. The inaugural airline flight was made by a New York bound Eastern Air
Lines DC-2 in 1936. Eastern's daily northbound flights departed in Miami,
landed at West Palm Beach and 11 other cities and arrived in New York 13 1/2
hours after leaving Morrison Field.The field was officially dedicated and
opened on December 19, 1936 with nothing more than the strip itself and a small
Palm Beach Aero Corporation obtained a five year lease in January
1937 for a hangar site and fixed base operational privileges. The first hangar,
along with ramps and facilities was ready for use by flights at a small
building on the south side of the airport, which became known as the Eastern
Air Lines Terminal.
The outbreak of World War II in Europe caused the United States to
quietly begin a massive defense build-up. In November 1940, the U.S. Army Air
Corps began converting Morrison Field for military purposes and activated it
for military use in 1941. Scheduled commercial service and private planes were
relocated to the new Lantana Airport, six miles south. A month after Pearl
Harbor, when the allied nations built up forces to invade France, Morrison
Field processed 6,200 planes and 45,000 fliers. Many of them took off from
Morrison Field for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
In 1947, the operations of the Air Transport Command were
transferred to Mobile, Alabama, and Morrison Field was deactivated on June 30,
1947. In September, the County took over the two-story Air Force operations
building on the north side of the airport for use as a passenger terminal.
In 1948, the County decided that for long-term business and
tourism growth, it should capitalize on the value of an internationally known
name such as Palm Beach. On August 11, the Board of County Commissioners voted
to officially change the name from Morrison Field to Palm Beach International
For the next four
years, the airport operated as a civilian airport. But in September, 1951,
during the Korean War, the Air Force reactivated Morrison Air Force Base.
Civilian operations and the passenger terminal were once again relocated to the
south side of the field, first in a hangar and then in an adjacent building.
Nearly 23,000 airmen trained in West Palm Beach during the Korean
conflict. After the war, and after several years of fighting the federal
government's move to the make the airport a permanent military base, the County
took over airport operations in 1959.
Throughout the 1940's, only Eastern Air Lines and National served
West Palm Beach. Starting in 1950, Bahamas Air operated out of PBIA. "Q"
Airways came on the scene in 1952. Mackey arrived in 1953 and Riddle operated
for air freight only in 1955. Capital came in for one year, 1954. Delta Air
Lines started DC-7 service in 1960, followed a year later by United.
In the 1950's,
passengers left PBIA through the County's first permanent terminal located on
Southern Boulevard. The terminal cost nearly $125,000 to build and was
demolished in 1991.
In 1960, the 2,000 acres at PBIA were officially transferred to
the ownership of Palm Beach County. During that time, Palm Beach County's needs
were rapidly outgrowing the aging facility. President John F. Kennedy's
frequent arrivals on Air Force One at PBIA also focused attention on the
airport. Although there was a controversy over the issue of relocating the
airport because of expansion needs, the general election of November 1963
proved that the voters did not want the airport moved. Plans for expansion
began instead and in 1965, a $4 million bond issue funded the construction of
the maintenance terminal and surrounding facilities.
On October 29, 1966, the main terminal at PBIA was dedicated.
Federal officials later built a new air traffic control tower at the facility.
In 1974, Delta Air Lines constructed the airport's second main terminal.
On October 23, 1988, the David McCampbell Terminal, named for
World War II naval flying ace, Medal of Honor winner and Palm Beach County
resident David McCampbell, was officially dedicated. Funded with about $150
million in revenue bonds, it has twice the number of gates (25), and potential
for 24 more. The new 560,000 square feet terminal includes a two story
concession mall, which runs the entire length of the building. It is designed
in the tradition of Palm Beach architect Addision Mizner, using keystone walls
and porticos. Other features include two passenger concourses; a separate
commuter concourse and holding area; and a new, beautifully landscaped roadway
system leading to separate levels at the terminal for arriving and departing
passengers. There are 1,100 short-term parking spaces on top of the terminal
and 2,300 long-term spaces at ground level. State-of-the-art jetways with
built-in power and air conditioning sources eliminated the need for auxiliary
power units. Level two (2) in the terminal (mall level) has seven restaurants,
three lounges and the Airport Business Center.
Phase II of the Airport expansion program which will virtually
double the existing facility's size and capacity has been planned and
construction will begin as the need develops.
There are 16 commercial and commuter airlines currently operating
out of PBIA. Over 5.8 million passengers passed through PBIA in 1998.
PBIA is conveniently located to serve the air trade area of Palm
Beach County and the four surrounding counties. The Airport is located 2.5
miles west of downtown West Palm Beach and 3.5 miles west of Palm Beach.