San Antonio will consider $2.5B in major upgrades to its international airport
A 20-year master framework for the San Antonio International Airport is in development with plans to include a new passenger terminal and extending one of its runways for more international flights.
Under the plan, which needs city council approval, a third terminal would be built over a span of three to five years with more than a dozen new gates. An existing runway would grow by about 1,500 feet and existing facilities would be relocated and upgraded. Officials say the airport is nearing its capacity and to meet anticipated city and regional demand, it must expand.
San Antonio’s Director of Airports, Jesus Saenz, said the time to invest is now.
“It's necessary for us to meet capacity as we look at everything that's happening around the Southwest Texas region. It's important that this airport and the city prepare itself, from an airport standpoint, to be ready for the future and the growth that's forthcoming,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
The cost is anticipated to crest past $2.5 billion with the first phase reaching approximately $1 billion. That first phase includes the construction of a Terminal C and extending the runway.
The existing terminals A and B, were built in the 1980s and in 2010 respectively. The airport will be adding three new gates by the end of 2022 with one additional gate in Terminal A and two additional gates in Terminal B.
The creation of Terminal C would bring the total number of gates to 34 once it is completed. Terminal C could potentially serve as a hub for international travel.
“We hope to have terminal C completed within the first five years, with up to 17 gates, with 3-5 international positions, and a new international arrivals hall,” Saenz said.
Future initiatives in the plan call for the reconstruction of Terminal A and a joining of all three terminals past security to allow for access to other concessions.
“It provides a more unified terminal experience for everyone. More importantly, it opens up a ton of square footage for us to be utilized for non aeronautical and concessions utilization,” he said.
San Antonio currently has international travel to Mexico — it previously had non-stop service to Canada via Air Canada but that route ended in 2019. Seanz said some travel to Europe is possible now, however the extension of one runway from its current 8,500 feet to 10,000 would allow for larger aircraft that can travel longer distances to have the necessary space required to initiate take off.
“We’ll be able to reach parts of Southeast Asia, and we'll be able to go deep into Europe once we complete that work and we can go as far south as Antarctica for those that want to go there. If you want to get that far south,” he told council members on Wednesday.
The airport’s boundaries are landlocked, bound by Loop 410 and Highway 281 as well as private property in the surrounding area. On Wednesday, officials said there would be no need for eminent domain and any expansion would be contained in the airport's existing footprint.
Plans to pay for the cost of the plan include the issuance of debt backed by revenue generated from the airport. Under the city’s budget, the airport is considered a restricted fund which means that funds regarding the airport can’t be used for other city services or departments.. Seanz noted that when the plan began its initial drafting, the infrastructure bill being debated in congress was not on the table but now some of that funding could be available in grants, the city will apply for it.
“We couldn't have a better alignment of stars for the City of San Antonio as we embark upon this large capital development,” he said.
Members of the San Antonio city council were receptive to the plan, which some acknowledge the airport is not up to par with other major cities and can sometimes be a deterrent. District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said in conversations with some business leaders the airport can be an Achilles heel when it comes to setting up shop in San Antonio.
“I'm sick of hearing that and I'm sick of losing business to other cities with better airports, but not better workforces or a better environment in which for them to do business,” he said.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said it would be a crucial capital investment.
“It needs to be implemented, it needs to be accelerated as much as we can, particularly in the environment that we're in with regard to post-pandemic recovery…,”he said. “We have the opportunity laid out in front of us and I happen to believe that this is probably .. one of the most, if not the most important capital investment that this community will ever make with regard to the trajectory of our economy,” he said.
The city council will consider the plan next Thursday during its regular council meeting.