City Council members on Thursday unanimously approved a strategic plan for the San Antonio International Airport that envisions the facility’s next 20 years.

Expanding the airport and improving its existing facilities is crucial to accommodate future growth, airport director Jesus Saenz told council members. In 2021, even with the coronavirus pandemic depressing air travel, nearly 6 million passengers went through the airport. In 2022, they expect closer to 10 million passengers.

“We want to reduce congestion and more importantly, we want to take care of our asset,” Saenz said. “And it’s important that as we look at the assets that we have today, that we upgrade those assets and we put ourselves in a very competitive and attractive format to ensure that we’re ready for the future as the City of San Antonio continues to grow.”

The 2040 Airport Strategic Plan follows a few other grand airport plans that never saw their goals executed, which makes this one even more important, said John Dickson, the chair of the airport strategic development committee.

“This is when other councils and other community groups fell down,” Dickson said. “They stopped doing it. You go back and read those strategic development path plans. It’s there, they just didn’t do it.

“There’s risk in spending money. There’s risk in everything we do. But there’s also risk in not doing anything, and that’s what’s happened in the past.”

The plan calls for a new terminal by 2030. Right now, there are 24 gates in Terminal A and B. The cost of adding a Terminal C is between $790 million and $840 million, Saenz said. That project would be part of the airport strategic plan’s first phase, along with roadway improvements and a parking garage.

Years 5-8 of the strategic development plan for the San Antonio International Airport
Years 5-8 of the strategic development plan for the San Antonio International Airport outline the addition of Terminal C and other infrastucture improvements. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

“More importantly, we will have incorporated new design standards, so that we have an airport that reflects the city of San Antonio and a true sense of place,” Saenz said.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), who ultimately voted to approve the plan, said that while he was pleased to see the strategic plan include more gates and other improvements, he was concerned about the still-to-be-determined price tag for the whole thing. Airport staff estimated that Phase 1, including the construction of a new terminal, would cost between $880 million and $950 million.

“​​You know me, I don’t like to sign blank checks,” he said. “And I know this is a strategic plan that reaches out many years from now. [But when] I took out a loan for my house for 30 years and I looked at my budget and how I could afford that. … it’s about identifying those resources.”

Saenz assured him that the funding would not come from the city’s budget or local taxpayer dollars. The airport can draw from grants, capital improvement funding, passenger revenue, and the recently-signed federal infrastructure bill.

“We will not spend a nickel or dime that we should not spend,” he said. “It’s important that as we look forward into what we’re doing, that we’re very fiscally responsible in all of our efforts.”

He also reminded council members that the strategic plan was just a plan. Future projects would still come before them for approval.

“We will not move forward without your support,” he said.

Though Thursday marked the formal OK of the strategic plan, Saenz said the airport was already making big moves. Last week, the airport welcomed the arrival of two pizza vending machines, the first in any airport in the country. 

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.