The Atlantic

A World-Class Airport for the End of the World

New Orleans is building a state-of-the-art, billion-dollar terminal. But is it planning for a future doomed by climate change?
Source: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

Stocking up on supplies—water, batteries, food staples—as Tropical Storm Gordon loomed over the Gulf, I was struck by a familiar sound in the sky as I loaded bags into my car: a bank of airliners forming a loose arc as they slanted down toward the airport, descending one at a time to land. While the city of New Orleans braced for the worst, life at the airport went on as usual.

Gordon ended up missing us completely, having fizzled out after making landfall well east of the city. New Orleans is safe, for now, but hurricane season lingers on through November. And let’s not even talk about 2019, when the storms could strengthen.

By then, the city of New Orleans plans to open a brand-new, “state of the art” airport terminal. The $1 billion project is currently under construction across the runway from the existing hodgepodge of concourses. But building a new “world-class” terminal in this sinking city is no straightforward matter. It reveals the precariousness of the world in its current state—a world in which airports may be nearing extinction.

Taxiing beside the building site during trip after trip over the past year, I watched the structure slowly rise up out of the swamp. Its undulating glass facade snapped into place one pane at a time, and then jet bridges began extruding from it.

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