Palm Beach International Airport 1966-1988

The story of PBI's beautiful old terminal building

  During the early 1960s Palm Beach County officials considered building a large regional jetport 20 miles west of downtown West Palm Beach.  County residents opposed the proposal in a 1963 referendum choosing to keep their old airport.  Plans were then made to improve the existing facilities at Palm Beach International Airport.

The old Southern Boulevard Terminal Building. 

  A $4-million Capital Improvement Program was launched under the leadership of Aviation Director Frank Sakser.  A new $2.4-million passenger facility would replace the tiny $150,000 terminal (that dated back to March 1953) on the south side of the airfield.

  In 1964 John Marion and Associates (architects) and Hutcheon Engineers began design work on the new facility.  The terminal design team selected an International architectural style with plenty of vertical two-story high windows.  Arnold Construction started work a year later on a site situated in the northeast quadrant of the 1,500-acre airfield near Australian Avenue and Belvedere Road. 

A stylish new Main Terminal in 1966.

  On October 30, 1966 the nearly-completed terminal was dedicated during an open house event.  As part of the festivities National Airlines displayed one of its brand new Boeing 727s and there was a skydiving show by the U.S. Army Golden Knights.


Sunset views of the Main Terminal.

  When completed the two-level Main Terminal had a long rectangular-shaped layout and encompassed 150,000-square feet.  The building was 540 feet long and 100 feet wide with a height of 33 feet.  Its annual rated capacity was 1.2-million passengers and its gates could simultaneously handle eight Boeing 727-200 airliners.  The Jet-Age structure was designed for second-level boarding and when required two additional concourses could be added increasing the number of gates to nineteen.


A Delta Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 at the Main Terminal.  Note the absence of jetways.

  The 55,000 square-foot Ticketing (lower) Level contained several departure lounges and two ticket counter islands that flanked a central gift shop/newsstand.  Delta, National and United occupied the east side of the terminal while Bahamas Airways, Eastern and Mackey Airlines were found in the west.  The Mezzanine Level housed a central Olympus Cocktail Lounge/Restaurant, an Eastern Airlines Ionosphere Club and offices.  The Mezzanine Level was open to the Ticketing Level below giving the terminal a modern and spacious ambiance.  Escalators at the opposite ends of the building conveyed patrons between the Mezzanine and Ticketing Levels.  During this period travelers walked across the apron to reach their aircraft and boarding was done by means of airstairs.


Left: The small building adjacent to the Main Terminal was one of the Baggage Claim Buildings.  Right: A curbside view featuring the outdoor arcade.   

  Baggage claim areas were located in two smaller open-air Baggage Claim Buildings flanking the Main Terminal.  Belt-type luggage carousels and rental car facilities were featured at each building.  Outdoor arcades connected the Main Terminal to the Baggage Claim Buildings and the US Customs House.

  The rectangular-shaped parking lot (situated a short walk away from the Main Terminal) initially contained 146 short-term and 523 long-term parking spaces.  During the next two decades the parking facilities would be expanded to ultimately accommodate 1,500 vehicles.

  Airline operations began on December 1, 1966.  Over 400,000 passengers passed through the terminal during its first year in operation.  Eastern was the busiest carrier followed by National, Delta and United Airlines.  Markets receiving nonstop service from Palm Beach included the Bahamas, Jacksonville, Miami, New York, Orlando and Tampa.    

  National Airlines inaugurated wide-body service on December 15, 1971 when the carrier introduced the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 on the New York-Palm Beach route.  Eastern Airlines followed National's lead in 1972 with the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar.

  Delta Airlines opened its own $2-million Unit Terminal on June 5, 1975.  The Delta Terminal was equipped with six gates and boasted Palm Beach International Airport's first jetways.  Baggage Claim and ticketing areas were found on the first floor and the departure lounges were situated within the level above.  A gift shop/newsstand and a restaurant were also featured at the terminal.  A total of 173 parking spaces were available for patrons adjacent to the facility.  By this time Delta Airlines was operating non-stop flights to Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and Tampa.

  Jetways were installed at the Main Terminal during the mid 1970s when the Mezzanine-Level offices were removed and the space was converted into departure lounges.  Gates 2 thru 7 (used by Eastern and National Airlines) were equipped with telescoping-type loaders.  Gate 1 (occupied by United) and Gate 8 (used by Mackey International and Shawnee Airlines) remained ramp-level facilities.

The Main Terminal viewed from the curbside area of the Delta Terminal.

  Both terminals handled 785,000 passengers in 1977.  The following year Palm Beach turned into a very sought after destination after Airline Deregulation went into effect.  The Main Terminal became a very busy place when Air Florida, Braniff International, North Central, Ozark, Trans World Airlines and USAir began scheduled service.  Eastern, National and United Airlines accommodated the new carriers by sharing their gates and ticket counters with them.

  In an attempt to increase capacity, United Airlines built a three-gate doglegged-shaped concourse that included a baggage claim area.  Pan American acquired National Airlines in January 1980 and during the next few years would scale down its Palm Beach operation.

  During the mid 1980s People Express commenced scheduled service and offered $59.00 one-way fares to its Newark hub.  The former US Customs House was converted into a two-gate terminal for the upstart carrier.  Other low-cost operators that briefly served Palm Beach International Airport during this period included New York Air, Northeastern and Presidential Airlines.

  Around this time the facilities started to become rather congested.  American, Continental, Northwest and Piedmont Airlines made the situation much worse when they initiated scheduled service.  In 1988 the terminals handled 2-million passengers and were operating well beyond their design capacity.

  In 1984 officials had considered expanding the Delta and Main Terminals.  This would have increased the number of gates to twenty-two and allowed the facilities to handle 8-million passengers.  Several alternative terminal concepts were also examined some employing the existing structures.  Aviation officials ultimately decided to build a completely new terminal.


Landside and airside views of the David McCampbell Terminal.

  Construction began on a replacement $150-million Centralized Terminal during the mid 1980s.  On October 23, 1988 the 550,000 square-foot David McCampbell Terminal opened with 25 gates and an annual rated capacity of 7-million passengers.  The Brutalist-style complex was comprised of three passenger levels, a concession mall, two jetway-equipped concourses and parking garages capable of accommodating 3,400 cars.  The beautiful new building could be doubled in size by expanding the Landside Terminal and constructing two additional concourses.

  After the David McCampbell Terminal opened all airline operations were transferred there and the old terminals were abandoned.  Aviation officials briefly considered converting the Main Terminal into an office building.  This was later determined to be impractical due to the high costs involved in refurbishing the structure.  Sadly in 1991 the Main Terminal, Baggage Claim Buildings and the People Express Terminal were demolished.  The demolition of the structures cost the county $1.57-million of which $793,000 was funded by a federal aviation grant.  Only the Delta Terminal, which was being used as a storage facility, was left standing.  The building remained in non-airline use for about a decade and a half and was regrettably razed in March 2005.

The Main Terminal's dedication plaque hangs at the David McCampbell Terminal's Ticketing Level.


The Main Terminal's parking lot is employed as the Park and Ride Lot.


The Main Terminal's apron is used as a remote hardstand by Delta Airlines and other operators.

The site of the former Delta Terminal.


The Delta Terminal's airside was used as a parking lot and storage yard for airport materials and equipment.


The Delta Terminal viewed from the Park and Ride Lot.  The building was architecturally coordinated with the Main Terminal and Baggage Claim Buildings.


The curbside area of the Delta Terminal.  Note the old Delta Airlines signs.


This arcade once connected the Delta and Main Terminal (note the signs).


Close-up images of the Delta Terminal.

My Mom and her little Mazda MX-3 at the Delta Terminal.