Atlanta’s Airport Readies To Become Even Busier

This illustration shows the steel canopy that will eventually arch over the roadways near the domestic terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Last year, the airport saw 104 million passengers, and that number is expected to rise.

Courtesy of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport


If you’ve been to Atlanta’s airport recently, you’ll see a lot of things are under construction.

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Outside the North Terminal, police guide traffic and pedestrians. Crews have been working to put up a steel canopy that will eventually arch over the roadways near the domestic terminals. The work is part of the airport’s $6 billion, 20-year expansion plan that’s expected to include a new concourse, a hotel and another runway.

“For us, everything we do is based on our forecasted demand,” said Roosevelt Council Jr., general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Council said the airport saw a record 104 million passengers last year.

“We expect those numbers to continue to rise,” he said.

For years, Hartsfield-Jackson has topped the list of busiest airports in the world. For some, like Terri Guth, who was at the airport to pick up a friend, the title doesn’t sound very appealing.

“The way security and so forth is now, if you’re telling me I’m going to the world’s busiest airport, I’m like ‘Oh, geez,’” Guth said.

But Pierre Germain, who’s been a passenger at the airport, said he welcomes the reputation.

“I think it’s pretty prestigious of them, and it makes us pretty popular over the world. It’s going to attract businesses and improve the economy,” he said.

Officials tout Atlanta’s airport as the economic engine for the region. The airport itself has about 63,000 employees working on its campus, Council said.

Janet Bednarek, a professor of history at the University of Dayton, Ohio, said Atlanta, without the bustling airport, would have been a very different city.

“It would not have had the Olympics; it might not have had CNN; it would have had a harder time holding onto Coca-Cola,” Bednarek said.

She said the airport has become one of the busiest airports globally because of its close relationship with Delta Air Lines, which she said started the first hub-and-spoke system. Last year, the airline renewed its lease for 20 years with the city, and that’s helping to fund the $6 billion expansion.

Part of that agreement with Delta said that Atlanta won’t pursue building another commercial airport in the area, meaning Hartsfield-Jackson will likely continue to play a dominant role in the region.

Atlanta voters are preparing to elect a new mayor and replace nearly half the City Council. In this moment of transition, WABE is exploring “The Future of Atlanta.”