This article has been updated.

Plans for a new ground load facility that will offer cheaper fares in and out of San Antonio International Airport received a major boost from a $20 million federal grant Monday.

The money will come from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which liked San Antonio’s plans to increase sustainability and make airfare more affordable, said Director of Airports Jesus Saenz.

Ground load facilities are commonly used at smaller airports and by low-cost carriers to efficiently move people on and off airplanes more quickly and inexpensively, thus reducing airfares.

A ground load facility in San Antonio is among the projects included in the 20-year, $2.5 billion airport strategic development plan approved by City Council in November 2021 to improve runways, roadways, vehicle parking and other airport facilities. 

The FAA’s $5 billion Airport Terminal Program was created by the Biden Administration’s 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It includes $750 million to be spent over on medium hub airports, like the San Antonio International Airport.

Monday’s announcement came as part of the program’s second round of selections for the five-year program. Last year, the city requested $50 million in FAA grant funding, most of it intended for the ground load facility and did not receive the money.

“We hope this is the first of several major investments by the FAA in our Terminal Development Program,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement.

San Antonio City Council approved the strategic development plan for the airport in Nov. 2021. The effort is expected to be funded by  a combination of FAA grants, the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill, airport revenue and fees and airport bonds.

After being passed over in the first round of the FAA’s Airport Development Project grants in September, city leaders went to work painting a clearer picture of their long-term plans for redeveloping the airport, City Manager Erik Walsh told reporters Monday.

Nirenberg, Walsh and Saenz met with FAA Deputy Administrator Bradley Mims earlier this year to discuss the project. They also turned over renderings of the spacious, modern new terminal to the FAA.

“Now they know exactly where the City of San Antonio is heading, and the efforts and the work that’s being done to grow the airport complex,” said Saenz.

When applications opened for the second round of funding, Walsh said, “This time… we were very intentional to point out how [the ground load facility] is an enabling project for the terminal development plan.”

“I think it was a lesson for us to be able to lay out what the long term plan is for the airport, so the FAA can see that every building block is getting us to that terminal,” he said. “We didn’t do that in the first application.”

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.