There are 5,211 public airports dotted about the US, ranging in size from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), one of the busiest hubs in the world, to Dawson Community Airport, which has the unique honour of being the US’s smallest airport.

It is difficult to overstate just how gargantuan and busy some of the US’s airports really are. For example, in 2022, LAX saw 65.9 million passengers pass through. In other words, it received the entire population of the UK, so to speak, over the course of 12 months. This figure made LAX the second-busiest airport in the world in 2022 in terms of passengers, ranking just behind Dubai International Airport and ahead of Istanbul Airport. 

It may come as no surprise, therefore, that improvements and expansions to LAX are among the most costly ongoing airport projects in the US today.

Los Angeles International Airport

LAX is in the midst of a $30bn capital investment programme, which is now in its final phase. The enormous project, which began well over a decade ago in 2009, is the largest public works programme in the history of Los Angeles. Work in the final phase involves the modernisation of terminals 4 and 5, with another $1bn in funding approved in 2022.

There is also an automated people mover, designed to take passengers between the terminals and stops outside the airport, which is due for completion in 2024. This alone came with a $2.6bn price tag. Meanwhile, a consolidated off-site facility for all rental companies (which will be the largest car rental facility in the world, with room for around 18,000 vehicles) is also due for completion in 2024. It cost $1.3bn. On top of this, there is the ongoing work to concourse 0, as well as the south side of the airport, including major road improvements.

Six more major airport projects across the US

How about building an entirely new airport at Salt Lake City? Meet Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), also known as Utah’s ‘New SLC Airport’, which debuted its first phase in 2020 with a new parking garage, terminal and two concourses. The second phase, which includes several new concourses and gates, is to be completed in 2024. 

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SLC is the US’s first major hub airport replacement of the 21st century. “This moment has been 25 years in the making,” said Bill Wyatt, executive director of SLC, in 2020.

Note: the cost of Utah’s new global aviation hub was an eyewatering $4.1bn and included no local taxpayer dollars. 

Next up is San Francisco International Airport, whose International Terminal is in the process of doubling capacity and refurbishing gates, restrooms and lounge furnishings. In addition, Harvey Milk Terminal 1, which opened in 2019, is to debut an updated North Ticketing Lobby in late 2024. It alone will cost $1.36bn.

At Portland International Airport in Oregon, a new main terminal is set to open in 2025 through a $1.5bn project. It will feature wide corridors lined by trees and local shops and restaurants (an indoor version of a small town’s main street). 

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh International Airport’s new $1.4bn terminal, which is under construction and scheduled to open in 2025, will include outdoor terraces both pre- and post-security. A nine-acre wood roof in Portland’s forthcoming main terminal will mark a first in airport construction. 

Built in a lattice of exposed wood sourced from a 500km radius of the city, the roof is more sustainable and seismically resilient than steel, Port of Portland chief projects officer Vince Granato said. It is designed to be “like a walk in the forest, which is what we are famous for out here… It is like a tree canopy with lots of skylights,” he added. 

At Denver International Airport, the Great Hall is in the midst of a major upgrade with the Jeppesen Terminal, which receives tens of millions of passengers a year. Phase one, which is currently in the works, includes new ticketing areas for United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Phase two, which is also under way, is adding a new security checkpoint on Level 6, and is scheduled to be complete in early 2024. The final phase of the Great Hall refurbishment will bring additional upgrades, although a final completion date has yet to be announced. Overall, this major overhaul will cost some $1.3bn

Meanwhile, at Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, construction is under way at Terminal E in preparation for a brand new international terminal, the Mickey Leland International Terminal. Originally approved at a price tag of $700m–$900m, the project is now set for $1.3bn and due to be completed in 2024.

In a bonus entry, Philadelphia International received $24m in recent years to overhaul 30 restrooms. It remains to be seen if they will top Tampa International’s new toilets, which were named as the US’s best restrooms in 2022, beating spas and top restaurants. Quite the accolade.