With passenger counts approaching pre-pandemic levels, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is moving quickly to increase security capacity, proposing a project that would add a fourth security checkpoint and upgrade machines at the existing three checkpoints.

The Airport Advisory Commission approved sending the $1.5 million project to the Austin City Council for final approval during its Oct. 12 meeting.

The potential investment comes after ABIA announced a massive expansion effort in July, called the Airport Expansion and Development Program, which aims to keep the airport on track to accommodate 31 million passengers by 2037 as forecasted in the 2040 Master Plan.

Shane Harbinson, the department of aviation’s deputy chief of planning and development, said the airport plans to begin work on the additional security checkpoint in November with a completion date between December and February 2022. It would have three lanes with the capacity to expand to four lanes in the future.

Harbinson also said that upgrading the Transportation Security Administration machines at the existing three checkpoints will play an important role in expediting the security process for travelers.

“The goal though is this new machine that TSA has installed should be faster, so your throughput should be, instead of 150 or [160] passengers per hour, maybe you can get 180 because it's a faster machine,” Harbinson said.

According to department of aviation documents, the passenger count in August reached 1.3 million compared to 1.5 million in August 2019. The airport also had its fourth busiest day Oct. 8, with 30,010 passengers, airport spokesperson Sam Haynes said. She added that the second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the University of Texas versus the University of Oklahoma football game likely played a role in increasing passenger traffic.

With those numbers on the rise, the airport is asking passengers to arrive at the airport 2.5 hours prior to their departure for domestic flights and 3 hours before international flights.

The Airport Advisory Commission did not unanimously support the project, as Chair Eugene Sepulveda said he was concerned the airport had prioritized the security expansion over improving exit options for mobility-impaired passengers.

“I'm going to go on the record that I'm displeased with the lack of priority toward mobility-impaired [people] and seniors in the design and maintenance of what we're doing here,” Sepulveda said.

The main terminal has two exits but adding two more exits as a part of its expansion program was discussed.

The airport anticipates that the Austin City Council will vote on the security expansion project prior to the Nov. 9 Airport Advisory Commission meeting, Haynes said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the main terminal currently has two airport exits.