• Paul Soprano

CLE Master Planning: Past & Present

Updated: Feb 20


The new Master Plan for Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), being led by consulting firm, RS&H, has a website to keep the public informed about the status of the current planning process. It can be found here: https://clevelandairportmasterplan.com/


Unfortunately, it seems that the public meetings envisioned by the planners have been postponed, as have most things recently, by the COVID-19 pandemic.


This slide presents a good overview of the process,



The process is expected to conclude in early 2021. It is still too early to determine what long-term impact the pandemic will have on air travel, in general, and CLE in particular. Through February 2020, traffic at CLE had been up 6.6% over 2019. But March-May traffic plummeted; April's decline was remarkably sharp at 96.4% versus April 2019!


There were small signs that airlines were starting to add flights back to the schedule this summer, and June 202o showed a slight rebound to about 22% of last June's totals. Overall, passenger traffic is down 55.5% year-over-year for the first half of 2020 to 2,172,994 (vs. 4,881,474 YTD in 2019). Total cargo is down only 4.4%.


Director of Port Control, Robert Kennedy, told the Cleveland City Council Transportation Committee on August 5, 2020, "The forecast generally within the industry is for a three- to four-year return to 2019 levels for domestic and five to seven years for international." He further predicted that only about 4.1 million passengers would use Hopkins, down from 2019's 10.04 million. Employment at the airport is down by about 1,300, to 6,200 workers. Air carriers operating at Hopkins went to 10 from 11 as Air Canada has suspended service to CLE due to COVID restrictions on international travel.


Also interesting is the shifting of market share of the airlines serving CLE. American, Southwest and Delta have increased their proportion of flights, while United's share decreased to 18% from 25%.


The planning continues nonetheless, with a view towards post-pandemic recovery. Kennedy also noted that some initial recommendations from the plan might be ready by late 2020. Timing might be very opportune to begin implementing changes, pending FAA regulatory approval, of course, as interest rates are low, infrastructure might be a future focus of government to promote jobs creation, and lower air traffic might enable a faster construction process with less disruption to operations.


This will be the latest in a long series of master plans. One of the more interesting plans was the one for the new terminal of the early 1950s. This design was drafted by the local architectural firm of Outcalt, Guenther & Associates for a brand new $4.3 million modern terminal in preparation for the coming jet age. Architectural Forum magazine (November 1952) praised the terminal design as providing "the best circulation pattern of any large US airport...It is surprisingly close to the theoretical best described by CAA." The fundamental design has lasted almost 7o years, of course, with some changes.



Highly praised concept for the 1950s terminal that has essentially lasted for over 70 years (Postcard from author's private collection)

That article, "New Thinking on Airport Terminals," looked at the cutting edge designs from several terminals under development then, including St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Monterrey, California. Click below to download the article.

1952-11-1 Architectural Forum-1952-11 CL
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Download • 9.52MB

As forward-thinking as that design was, it proved to be inadequate a mere 15 years later, necessitating new expansion plans that culminated in the 1970s-era terminal that essentially remains today. The drawing below anticipated the construction of a large parking structure, opened in 1971 (and torn down in 2013), the southern expansion of the main terminal, completed in August 1978, as well as the East Concourse which eventually was built as Concourse D, opened in May 1999 by Continental Airlines for use by its Continental Express regional jets.


CLE expansion plan from July 30, 1969 (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
1973 Drawing of the CLE terminal expansion by architects Richard L Bowen + Associates showing the southward expansion of the main terminal and double-decking of the North & West Concourses (Cleveland Memory Project)

1975 brochure with model detailing CLE’s terminal expansion by Richard L. Bowen + Associates-note East Concourse at left (where present-day D Concourse is located) connected to terminal with a people mover (Scan from author's personal collection)

The most recent master plan from 2012 by Landrum & Brown proposed a number of improvements for Hopkin's terminal area. Most significant included the widening of Concourse C to create dual-use international gates and the relocation of the Federal Inspection Services (FIS) for international arrivals from a rather crowded facility on the lower level of the end of Concourse A, dating from 1979, to an enlarged portion of the main terminal's southern end connected to the expanded C Concourse. The main terminal was also eventually to have been expanded further southeast and even connected directly to Concourse D. This would have brought the master plan from the late 1960s to completion. None of these projects were ever undertaken due to United Airline's decision to close its Cleveland hub in June 2014.


Terminal area from 2012 Master Plan (Landrum & Brown via clevelandairport.com)

We will see if the new plan goes bigger with a radical new vision for CLE!

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