As rapid population growth in the Central Texas region continues, area airport systems have moved forward with long-term development plans aimed at meeting the demand for local and international travel.The San Antonio City Council on Nov. 18 approved a strategic development plan to guide improvements at the San Antonio International Airport over the next 20 years.

Citing projected increases in passenger levels, city officials said enhancing the airport will be the biggest single capital improvement project in San Antonio’s history with costs estimated to reach $2 billion.

In July, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport announced a massive expansion plan called the Airport Expansion and Development Program as part of its rollout of the 2019 master plan.

ABIA CEO Jacqueline Yaft said Austin’s population growth and airline demand to add flights indicated the timing for expansion was right.

“We are getting requests by the airlines for growth and more capacity and room for them to add more flights,” Yaft said. “We need to implement our master plan for 2040 and get into this expansion program as fast as possible.”

Austin aims to add flights

Officials at ABIA view the recently announced expansion program as an initial phase in attaining the goals laid out in its 2040 master plan. The plan forecasts the airport will reach 31 million passengers and need 64 gates by 2037, nearly double the record-breaking 17 million passengers in 2019 and current 34 gates plus the three South Terminal gates.

The expansion program aims to make large-scale renovations to the main terminal, known as the Barbara Jordan Terminal; add a new concourse that could house 10 or more gates; and close the recently opened South Terminal by 2023.

Yaft said much of the proposal is conceptual, as a principal architect will be hired in February to solidify designs and timelines. However, some of the $325 million Barbara Jordan Terminal optimizations are already underway.

While much of the expanded gate capacity will come from the new concourse, the airport also plans to spend $70 million on gate capacity in its west wing and $14 million on interim new gate capacity in its east wing.

Officials with the city, which owns the airport, have also said they will close the South Terminal, which opened in 2016 and caters to low-cost carriers, by 2023.

The South Terminal is operated by Lonestar Airport Holdings, which signed a 40-year lease in May 2016 with the city to manage the facility.

“We have no intention of sacrificing any of our rights under the lease,” Lonestar Airport Holdings CEO Jeff Pearse said. “There’s too much riding on it.”

With the expectation of a legal battle, the city largely declined to comment on the South Terminal. In a statement it said: “Lonestar recently notified the city of Austin that it is not interested in participating in a structured negotiation process related to this matter. Due to anticipated litigation, we cannot provide additional information at this time.”

Pearse said in an email that he remains open to working with the city to help expand the airport as airlines like Allegiant plan to expand operations to the terminal.

San Antonio set on expansion

The plan in San Antonio calls for a third terminal, more gates and concession spaces, a unified passenger screening area, a walkway to link all three terminals, a longer runway and reconfigured roads leading in and out of the airport.

Jesus Saenz Jr., the city’s director of airports, said no city or local tax dollars will be used to implement the airport master plan and that sources of funding would include passenger facility charges, airport bonds and user rent and fees. He also said funds from the recently passed $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill could be used on some of the planned upgrades.

City officials said more than 10 million passengers traveled through SAIA in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic, though the total dropped to 4 million passengers in 2020. Passenger numbers are projected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022 with 15 million passengers expected to pass through annually by 2040, according to city officials.

The airport strategic development plan approved in November has four phases, with the first two phases containing projects to be completed by 2030. Projects included in the first two phases are estimated to cost between $850 million-$950 million.

Phase 1 and Phase 2 initiatives include construction of a Terminal C, a parking and ground transportation center, a consolidated receiving and distribution facility, realignment of terminal roadways to reduce congestion and more.

The City Council has already approved construction of three new gates between the two existing terminals, baggage system improvements and new terminal concessions.

The final two phases spell out upgrades to happen in the 2030s, including the replacement of the Terminal A concourses, development of a centralized security checkpoint at Terminal B, relocation of the air traffic control tower, and a new airport entrance from Loop 410.

Terminal C will include a hall for international arrivals and provide more space for airport concessions and visitor circulation, Saenz said. He added the city hopes to begin Terminal C construction by 2027.