Sky-high aspiration

Soaring $2.5 billion overhaul of San Antonio airport cleared for takeoff

Soaring $2.5B overhaul of San Antonio airport cleared for takeoff

San Antonio International Airport
The airport improvements could help nearly double passenger counts in the next two decades. San Antonio International Airport/Facebook

A $2.5 billion plan that could help San Antonio International Airport land more international flights has been cleared for takeoff by city leaders.

The San Antonio City Council recently gave unanimous approval to the plan, which calls for improvements such as building a third terminal (Terminal C) and revamping Terminal A. By 2040, the airport could feature 37 gates, up from the current 24. The Federal Aviation Administration must sign off on the plan before it can be put into motion.

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 10 million passengers flew in and out of the airport. Over the next 20 years, the annual passenger count could rise to 18 million, airport officials say.

“This plan is warranted and will prepare us for future demand and transform the passenger experience at the airport. … It will be a world-class facility that everyone will be proud of and reflects our city’s rich culture, diversity, and charm,” Jesus Saenz, director of airports for the San Antonio Airport System, says in a news release.

John Dickson, chairman of Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s Airport System Development Committee, says it would cost roughly $4 billion to $8 billion to build a new airport.

During a November 10 council meeting, Councilman Manny Pelaez said some people perceive the current airport as “substandard” and as an impediment to doing business 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 ... to do business,” Texas Public Radio reported Pelaez as saying.

A big chunk of the $2.5 billion for the airport overhaul will be earmarked for a new Terminal C. The airport expects the terminal to be finished by 2030 at a price tag as high as $840 million (in today’s dollars).

Another key component of the plan is an upgrade of the 17-gate Terminal A, which handles all the airport’s international flights. Terminal B was renovated in 2015. Terminal B, which opened in 2010, contains seven gates.

Three new gates are set to open in 2022: one gate at Terminal A and two gates at Terminal B. Under the expansion plan, the airport eventually could host 37 gates.

The first phase of the expansion, at a cost of about $1 billion, includes construction of Terminal C and a runway extension.

None of the three runways at the San Antonio airport is longer than about 8,500 feet. A runway at least 10,000 feet long would be needed to accommodate long-haul Eastern European, South American, and Asian flights to take off and land. International wide-body jets carry more fuel than smaller planes, so they’re heavier and need more room to take off and land. The current runway system enables international flights, but only to and from closer destinations like Mexico, Canada, and Western Europe.

Currently, the only international destinations served by the San Antonio airport are in Mexico.

Thirteen airlines fly in and out of San Antonio: AeroMexico, Alaska, Allegiant, American, Breeze, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Sun Country, United, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris. American and United use Terminal B. The other airlines, along with American, use Terminal A.

The airport offers nonstop flights to 39 destinations.