Passengers await a flight. Photo by Scott Ball.
Passengers await a flight at San Antonio International Airport. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio International Airport is on track to serve a record 10 million passengers in 2018, Aviation Director Russ Handy said Tuesday.

At a City Council budget meeting, Handy touted the airport’s growth over last year and an award from an international airport organization recognizing San Antonio for its outstanding customer experience and service.

“It was a landmark year,” he said.

The airport set records in July for passenger growth, domestic traffic, international traffic, and cargo moved through the airport. More than 900,000 passengers came through the airport in July – the record for a one-month period, Handy said. The number of nonstop flights also increased, from 35 destinations in 2016 to 53 this year.

A news release from the airport attributed the passenger growth to more routes and nonstop flights added by American, Southwest, and Frontier airlines. The release also said San Antonio International Airport processed more than 22 million pounds of cargo – a 15 percent increase from year to year.

As chief air service development officer, Brian Pratte is tasked with attracting airlines to San Antonio.

“There are about 425 commercial airports throughout the U.S., and we’re all vying for the same air service the next airport is,” Pratte said. “There’s a finite source of air service available.”

Though airlines generally grow year to year, the growth is low, Pratte said. And though the local airport has gained more direct flights, retaining flights requires work too. He and his team have to show airlines the airport’s demand and why people fly to and from San Antonio, he said.

“You’ve got to put forth the best business case, and it’s all based on credible data,” Pratte said. “You want to prove you’re the best option out there.”

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) asked how San Antonio’s airport fees measures up to those of other cities. According to Handy, the aviation team studies fee comparisons often, and San Antonio remains “very competitive.”

City of San Antonio Director of Aviation Russell Handy. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“I would say we’re about middle of the road for airports of similar size [for our fees],” Handy said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg praised Handy and the rest of the aviation team for helping grow the airport’s traffic.

“We’ve criticized our airport for not having many direct connections, for being slow growing, and we’ve lamented our position within the landscape of air service within the southern United States,” Nirenberg said.

He added that a larger airport does not lead to a stronger economy, contrary to opinions he’s heard before. San Antonio must first have a strong business climate to create the demand for a competitive airport, he said.

“It’s driven me nuts that the airport is the receptacle of all the excuses we make for the San Antonio economy,” Nirenberg said.

The mayor also said he wants the airport to be competitive in international air service. San Antonio is well situated as a “gateway” to Latin America.

According to Handy, San Antonio will host top executives of Frontier Airlines and Mexican economy airline Volaris early next month. Pratte said the event will launch the two companies’ codeshare agreement, meaning Frontier can now sell tickets on Volaris’ platform and vice versa.

“Someone could theoretically start their trip in Memphis on Frontier, fly to San Antonio, change planes, get onto a Volaris aircraft and go to Mexico City,” Pratte said.

Jackie Wang

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