US airports spruce up

Huge investments and projects. Many airports are preparing to upgrade their infrastructures to be even more competitive

Surrounded by peach trees, Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, also enjoys a hard to beat record this year. Despite not being one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States (it ranks only eighth with 6.2 million inhabitants), it hosted over 94 million passengers through its airport last year, once again making it the busiest in the United States and in the world.

The Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, named after two former mayors of Atlanta, has long topped a ranking that, according to the Airport Council International (ACI) World, features only American airports in the top five, thanks to the increasing volume of domestic flights. Dubai follows with 66 million passengers, holding the highest number of international passengers. After Atlanta, which also benefits from being the base of Delta Airlines, are the airports of Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

This indicates, more than the allure of the destination, the value of the strategic location, and in this case, Atlanta seems to be at the center of the world for reaching any destination, much more so than New York City, which has three airports but is not among the top five in the United States. Behind Atlanta, other airports are gearing up to enhance their infrastructures to be even more competitive, both domestically and internationally.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has initiated a program to fund projects for airport security improvement, capacity enhancement, protection, and environmental aspects. FAA funds are allocated to both public and private airports meeting specific traffic standards, national interest, and geographic criteria. In addition to these funds, there are injections of money from the bipartisan infrastructure law, the so-called Job Act, which has earmarked $15 billion over five years for the airport sector.

In the United States, there are over 5,200 public airports, many of which are undergoing modernization and expansion to meet the increasing demand for air travel after the austerity imposed by COVID. Here are seven airports in the planning or construction phase, adding terminals, improving access roads, and passenger services.

San Diego

The airport in Southern California, currently ranked 24th among U.S. airports with around 11 million passengers, is owned by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. It is one of the busiest single-runway airports, aiming to climb the ranks with the construction of a new Terminal 1 to replace the current one, allowing better connections with service transports. The project, started in 2021, is expected to conclude in 2025, adding new boarding gates to reach 19 in the new T1. Project cost: $2.6 billion.


Denver International Airport (DEN), with almost 70 million passengers, is the third-largest U.S. airport, chosen as a base by United Airlines. It has recently completed a capacity expansion project adding 39 new gates (for a total of 148), increasing the terminal’s capacity by 30%. The airport’s expansion is in phase 2, including the construction of the Great Hall, a $1.3 billion project featuring a new security checkpoint, escalators, and reconfiguration of various services for passengers and those awaiting travelers.


The airport in the capital of Texas, named “Bergstrom” in honor of the first Austinite killed in World War II, has grown to surpass 10 million passengers annually, with 99 active airlines, 612 served routes, and 15 countries reached. It ranks just below San Diego in the U.S. at 27th place and is one of the airports planning capacity development to cope with the rapid growth of the metropolitan area. The estimated $2 billion project will include new passenger spaces, an increase in the number of gates, a new baggage handling system, and various infrastructure interventions to expand the aircraft apron. Planned projects also include a 20-gate wing and an underground tunnel connecting it to the main terminal.

Houston 1

The Texan city has launched an ambitious program to give its airport system global hub dimensions. The main airport, named after former President George Bush, is under construction for the modernization of Terminal D, baggage control improvement, new VIP spaces, checkpoints, and baggage handling. With 20 million passengers, Houston’s international airport ranks 15th nationally. Future works include the preparation of the brand-new Terminal E, with a $1.3 billion project.

Houston 2

Alongside the larger hub, the William P. Hobby Airport (named after a former Texas governor), serving 6 million passengers annually, is undergoing a $450 million expansion program. This will include the addition of seven gates in the West Concourse, six of which are intended for Southwest Airlines. The development will involve additional baggage conveyor belts and upgrades to the airport’s baggage handling system, restrooms, and other projects to support increased capacity. Today, the airport serves 83 destinations, but the project will help expand the global reach of the greater Houston area.


At the Portland International Airport in Oregon, a new main terminal will be opened in 2025 through a $2 billion project called PDXNext, set to radically change the airport core, with ticketing and lobby areas nearly doubling in size. The airport, serving 7.2 million passengers and acting as a “medium hub” in the region, will be made more energy-efficient, and the design of the new main terminal is inspired by the Pacific Northwest landscape. The new terminal will feature wide corridors lined with trees and local shops and restaurants, resembling an indoor version of a city’s main street.

Los Angeles

LAX, as it is called by the airport code, is in constant motion with construction projects following one another to give the airport increasing global prominence. In the U.S. (and globally), it ranks fifth with 67 million passengers and aims for development with a $30 billion investment plan. The massive LAX project, initiated over ten years ago in 2009, remains the largest public works program in the history of Los Angeles. The final phase works include a $1.6 billion modernization of Terminals 4 and 5, where American Airlines, Jetblue, and Spirit travelers will board. Completion is expected in 2027, creating a centralized position for ticketing, checks, and baggage retrieval with enhanced services. Modernization works worth $2.3 billion are also underway for Terminals 2 and 3, housing Delta Air Lines, Aeromexico, and WestJet, while another project, costing $2.6 billion and nearing completion, involves the construction of an automated “people mover.” Dozens of other interventions in the vast airport area include a consolidated structure for all car rental companies, costing $1.3 billion, making it the largest in the world, with space for around 18,000 vehicles.