The five members of City Council’s Transportation Committee were generally receptive Wednesday to a presentation about a proposal to expand San Antonio International Airport, but some weren’t ready to completely rule out abandoning the current facility just outside Loop 410 to build a larger, more expensive one much further outside of town.
“I’m not allergic to the idea of building somewhere else,” Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said.
A recent study commissioned by the Airport Advisory Commission concludes that the current location could be built out to accommodate the airport’s growing needs over the next 50 years. While that price tag could be in the hundreds of millions, building a new airport elsewhere could be between $5 and $10 billion after adding up real estate, infrastructure, and construction costs.
There is no guarantee that the Federal Aviation Administration would allow departures and landings at a new location, said John Dickson, principal of a local cyber security firm who serves as chair of the Airport Advisory Commission.
“[The FAA] has incredible veto power,” Dickson said, and it does not think San Antonio has a capacity problem – which means it likely wouldn’t help fund a new facility that would take 10 to 20 years to build.
To view the presentation, click here.
Answering questions about where the San Antonio International Airport should be located and whether it would fit is part of the first phase of the commission’s job to develop a 20-year airport master plan and examine needs 50 years out. To do that, the study, conducted by engineering and planning firm WSP-USA, examined several factors including fluctuating passenger growth numbers, future – and possibly disruptive – technologies, and other innovations that could change aviation systems.
Under the “most aggressive scenario,” the airport would need to add new runways and other infrastructure by 2023 to accommodate passenger growth, John van Woensel, team project manager for WSP, told the Rivard Report.
In five to 10 years, Dickson said, the airport will start to feel a strain on services. “We have to start thinking about it now.”
The full Council is slated to hear a similar presentation about the study’s results during a briefing session scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 31. There, the advisory commission will get a more complete sense of how to proceed.
The second phase of this work will more clearly define the site plan, development alternatives, project cost, and possible sources of revenue.
There are a number of different funding mechanisms the City could use, Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras told the Rivard Report, but it’s too soon to say how much expansion will cost or how it will be funded.
Expanding the current airport “would be substantially less than [a new location],” Contreras said. “[Funding] could include some participation by airlines” in the form of fees or other investments, but it likely would not be property or sales tax supported.
“It likely would be something that’s related to the enterprise itself,” he added. “It’s hard to speculate right now.”
If the City pursues the expansion plan, Dickson said, it will need to acquire commercial property directly north and south of the airport.
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) said he wasn’t sold on the airport expansion or relocation, but added it would take him and the community some time to weigh either proposal.
“Every council member should have already been engaged on this,” Brockhouse said.
Four public open houses were scheduled across the city this week to get input from the community. The last event is Thursday, Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. at the Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio, 12500 N.W. Military Hwy.
An online “Rollout Survey” is available online here through Nov. 9.
More Council and citizen engagement opportunities lie ahead in the second phase, Dickson said, as more details emerge about the path forward.
Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said the study debunks some misconceptions about the current airport.
Many used the airport’s lack of capacity and direct flights as an “excuse” for San Antonio’s slower economic growth than other cities, Saldaña said. “[This study] knocks down that argument.”
San Antonio’s relatively urban airport is an “under-appreciated asset,” Dickson said, adding that part of the commission’s goal is to change the “perceived liability” of the airport into a “perceived economic strength.”