Though a winter storm grounded San Antonio flights for a few days, the San Antonio International Airport likely will not invest in winterization efforts.

Houston’s and Austin’s airports also do not have equipment specifically for clearing runways during winter storm events, Director of Airports Jesus Saenz told City Council members Wednesday.

“[If] you purchased it, you put it in play, and it just sits there for years and years and years and you’re not using it. Is that … something that we want to do? Because there’s not really a good return on investment,” Saenz said.

Because San Antonio rarely gets snowfall like the mid-February winter storm, it doesn’t make much sense to invest in winter-proofing the airport, Saenz reasoned. The airport staff was able to clear the runways with equipment it already had on hand, he said.

“We were able to ride it out. … We never closed the airport but we closed the [runways and taxiways] because it was a safe thing to do,” he said. The San Antonio International Airport’s runways were closed for three full days due to snow and ice – Feb. 15, 16, and 18. The airport was able to allow some flights in and out on Feb. 17. It fully reopened Feb. 19.

“That’s the answer I can give you. But I will tell you this: I’m incredibly, incredibly grateful to the people that we have here.”

Saenz also updated City Council members on the airport’s strategic development plan at the Wednesday meeting, including three potential terminal construction plans that he said his staff would be evaluating. City Council members took the opportunity to ask about noise control, airport funding, and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We saw in Q1 there was a 60% decline in passengers, but the revenues and concessions and parking says that it resulted in an additional $2.4 million dollars above our budget,” Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) said. “And I’m just wondering, how does that happen?”

Saenz said the airport was able to do better than its most pessimistic budget. He predicted the airport’s revenue would continue to increase.

“We were planning for the worst because none of us knew what was going to happen,” he said. “So we’ve been very fortunate. … That’s why you see that improved revenue in how we’re performing, and we anticipate continuing to do that throughout the year. And as vaccinations become available and people become more keen to want to travel again, then that’s only going to go further in the right direction for us.”

Along with extending and updating existing airfield runways, the San Antonio International Airport is considering three options to have at least 35 terminal gates, Saenz said. There are currently 23 gates. Saenz said the next steps in the airport strategic development plan are selecting a terminal project and choosing a plan to improve roadways around the airport.

Saenz also touted recent awards the airport received from the Airports Council International World organization. San Antonio International Airport was among three North American winners of the Best Airport award in the 5 million-15 million passenger category and one of six North American recipients of a new award, Best Hygiene Measures. Council members congratulated him on the titles.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am as a director of our entire team,” Saenz said. “Each of these awards is highly regarded in the aviation industry. We could have not accomplished this without each of our team members being committed and dedicated to combating the COVID virus and focusing on customer service.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the number of terminal gates being considered for future development at the San Antonio International Airport.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.