Panelists at an April 21 luncheon including San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg expressed eagerness to see the planned transformation of the San Antonio International Airport into what they called a world-class facility that reflects local culture, and serves the increasing needs of a growing region.

San Antonio Mobility Coalition organized a luncheon at Embassy Suites by Hilton San Antonio Landmark. The event focused on long-term airport transportation plans with a panel that also had a Airport Systems Director Jesus Saenz; John Dickson, chair of the Airport Strategic Development Committee; and Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the Geater:SATX Regional Economic Partnership.

The panelists agreed that given the city’s expanding population and commercial growth, there was a need to enhance San Antonio’s airport. Nirenberg said prior to his election as mayor, local government and civic leaders discussed whether to relocate the airport or find a way to build a second airport.

Once local officials decided to keep the existing airport in its current location, the city seeks to expand and improve the north side facility, Nirenberg said.

Nirenberg lauded the fast, comprehensive work done by city staff and the appointed Airport Strategic Development Committee toward assembling a long-range strategic development program for the airport.

The airport plan, among other things, features development of a new terminal, more gates and concession space, and the introduction of a centralized ground transportation facility.

“It’s a testament to the work of all involved,” Nirenberg said.

Dickson, a local high tech executive, said other growing communities have been primarily improving their local airport terminal systems and that it was time for San Antonio to upgrade its airport to better serve business and recreational travelers passing through the local airport.

Dickson also said the city does not mean to implement its airport plan on the cheap.

“We don’t want to value engineer this airport. We want to build a world-class airport within its existing confines and within our financial structure,” he said.

Saucedo-Herrera acknowledged the city has a big vision for the airport, but the strategic development plan may help toward luring new businesses to town and keep existing corporations in San Antonio. She also said bringing even more direct flights and international routes to the San Antonio airport can benefit local economic development efforts.

“We’re talking about putting big ideas into action,” Saucedo-Herrera said.

Saenz said another key aspect of the strategic airport program is to extend an existing runway by 10,000 feet, which he said will accommodate more international flights.

“We’re almost always talking about the airfield and what’s available to us,” Saenz said.

Saenz also said while the city has its plan in place, his department is talking with airlines about the needs and how best the local airport can meet the air carriers’ needs.

“We have to have our strategies in line with those of the airlines,” he added.

Dickson there previously had been political pushback to the idea of extending airport runway space, but stakeholders, including many neighboring residents and businesses, have more recently provided support for the plan to add runway space for the airport, which abuts US 281 and Loop 410.

Saucedo-Herrera said expanding capacity within the airport is vital toward adding more nonstop air service, adding it is a critical tool in regional economic development efforts.

“We can’t have a discussion with a [prospective] employer without talking about the airport,” she added.

The city said the overall strategic development program is estimated to cost $2.5 billion with $1 billion eyed for the new terminal. Local officials said construction on the new terminal is estimated to begin in 2024 and wrap up in 2028.

Saenz said much of the overall program will be financed by a mix of funding sources, including Federal Aviation Administration grants, the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, airport revenues and fees, and airport bonds.

According to Saenz, a system is in place to ensure the city will engage potential vendors, especially woman- or minority-owned businesses or other local small companies, interested in bidding on an individual airport improvement project or being a concessionaire in the airport spaces.

Nirenberg said he wanted to reassure the community that the revamped airport will match the city’s vision of a modern, efficient, spacious facility that will serve a growing city and its various industries.

“We’re going to build it right the first time,” Nirenberg said.