SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio International Airport isn’t moving or expanding, but the San Antonio City Council approved a new Strategic Development Plan Thursday for increasing the aiport’s capacity within its existing footprint.
The “SDP,” as officials refer to it, provides a vision for the airport into 2040 that will accommodate the area’s expected growth and increased airport traffic. The plan calls for unifying the airport terminals, including a brand-new third terminal; adding more gates; extending the largest runway to accommodate longer international flights; re-routing vehicle traffic; central passenger screening; and more parking.
The council had already discussed the plan at its meeting on Nov. 10 and voted unanimously Thursday to approve it.
“I’m very excited. So buckle up, put your seats in the upright position. San Antonio International is cleared for takeoff,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said immediately before the council’s cote.
The SDP cements a vision for the airport that has been under development since 2017 when Nirenberg formed the Airport System Development Committee to consider the future of aviation in the city. The committee’s most important task was determining if the airport should stay where it is, or if another option - such as a regional airport between San Antonio and Austin - was a better idea.
The committee ultimately decided developing the airport in its existing location was the best plan, and it continued to serve in an advisory capacity as the SDP was created. On behalf of the committee, Chairman John Dickson told members Thursday “We should do this. We should do this now.”
“As I said last week, this is when other councils and other community groups fell down,” Dickson said. “They stopped doing it. You go back and read that those strategic development plans, it’s there. They just didn’t do it.”
Though airport traffic has fallen off because of the pandemic, the city’s director of airports, Jesus Saenz Jr., expects the airport to be back to roughly 10 million passengers next year. The airport expects to hit 15 million annual passengers by 2040, necessitating a larger airport.
It will be an expensive undertaking. The first phase, which would finish around 2030, includes a new “Terminal C” and a new parking and ground transportation center that is estimated to cost between $880 million and $950 million in today’s dollars.
The entire complex could cost as much as $2.5 billion in all Saenz told council members at the Nov. 10 presentation.
However, rather than city or local tax dollars, Saenz said the airport will pay for the developments with sources like: Federal Aviation Administration money, passenger and airline fees, airport bonds, and the new federal infrastructure bill.
He also emphasized the plans would only be realized as demand warrants.
“When I talk about PAL - planning activity levels, that’s dependent on how many passengers are going through the airport,” Saenz told council members. “As we see the growth, we will be prepared, versus today, we’ve reached capacity and we have no other infrastructure or asset to go towards to add additional gates.”
The lack of a detailed funding plan, though, bothered District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry.
“So I know you’re a business; you’re an enterprise fund,” Perry said. “There’s no city funds going into this, but still, we’re responsible. We own the airport - the city does.”
Saenz said the airport is already working to realize its vision with steps like increasing throughput of passenger check points, providing more new concessions, and adding three new gates at the existing terminals.
The gate work will bring the airport’s total to 27 gates. In 2040, the SDP envisions the airport having up to 37 gates.
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