By Kathryn Hardison – Austin Business Journal
Contracting opportunities will be available this summer
This 2020 rendering shows a future expansion of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Because of the pandemic, airport officials plan to gradually make changes outlined in the 2040 Master Plan.
Life is returning to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Activity has picked up since the start of the year, both in the form of passenger travel and airline commitments.
Those metrics, coupled with the metro’s fast-growing population, have signaled to airport officials that it’s time to readdress a long-anticipated facility expansion. Before the pandemic hit, plans were in motion to nearly double the size of the airport — critical to keeping up with air travel demand in a city where the economy has hardly missed a beat during the pandemic.
Crowds have returned to Austin-Bergstrom. Airport leaders are figuring out how to move and when to move forward with expansion plans. “The first thing we need is gates,” AUS CEO Jacqueline Yaft said.
That’s good news for Austin’s growing business community. Air travel is a major emphasis in economic development circles and is also a huge contributor to the health of the local hospitality sector, which still hasn’t recovered fully from the pandemic. And while there’s no hard date yet for when an airport expansion may move forward, it’s critical to remember that whatever decisions are made around the speed and scope of the process will impact a wide variety of companies, from real estate firms looking for contracting to tech startups that need to connect with customers or investors in far-flung locales.
The extensive plan calls for construction of a second concourse, improvements within the existing Barbara Jordan Terminal, a tunnel to the new concourse, curbside upgrades and more taxiways. Up to 32 gates will be constructed to increase capacity to 31 million travelers annually by 2037. The Barbara Jordan Terminal currently has 34 gates, some of which are leased by airlines. The South Terminal has three gates.
The airport’s new strategy is called the Airport Expansion and Development Program. Yaft said the plan is still to eventually fulfill the goals set forth in the long-range master plan. But, in the meantime, officials are trying to figure out which elements of the plan are most needed.
“The first thing we need is gates,” Yaft said. “Then the domino effect to that is we need to get counters, baggage system, TSA screening, and then of course, roadways and parking and so forth.”
The plan is to first optimize the Barbara Jordan Terminal, including its gates, ticket counters and processing procedures, according to the airport’s website. Airfield improvements, utility upgrades and environmental site work will then happen before work can begin on a new midfield concourse with 10-plus gates.
Contracting opportunities will be announced later this summer for a principal architect and engineer for planning, programming and initial design work for parts of the AEDP.More information can be found here. Outside of the terminal work, initial steps have already begun for an additional 90,000-square-foot cargo facility following the increase in e-commerce demand.
Overall, airport travel has been climbing since the start of the year. March was the first month with a year-over-year increase in ABIA traffic since the pandemic started. More than 841,000 passengers traveled through the airport in April. That was up 14% from March — but down 30% from April 2019, which was a record-setting year for air travel activity, according to an airport spokesperson.
The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has seen an uptick in travel recently, though passenger counts are still far from pre-Covid levels. Over 841,000 passengers traveled through the airport in April.
The Austin metro has been the fastest-growing major U.S. metro for the last decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The metro as a whole gained an estimated 579,014 residents — 34% population growth — from 2010 to 2020.
Since the pandemic began last year, airlines have announced 47 new routes to their lineups that will begin service by the end of November at the Austin airport, according to an airport spokesperson. That doesn’t include service returning after being pulled during the pandemic or expanded service.
Hawaiian Airlines began a nonstop flight from Austin to Honolulu in April, which was the airline’s first Texas connection.
American Airlines is doubling down on Central Texas. The airline has announced a total of 25 new nonstop routes so far this year, along with a handful of service expansions. Some of those destinations include Nassau, Bahamas; Los Cabos, Mexico; Dominican Republic and many U.S. cities.
In April, Allegiant Air announced plans to invest $75 million to create a permanent operations hub at ABIA, and the carrier has also announced new nonstop routes to Bozeman, Montana, and Bentonville, Arkansas.
Delta Air Lines Inc. also reaffirmed its commitment to Austin, as a company executive told an investor conference in March that Austin is one of two “focus cities” for the company, along with Raleigh, North Carolina. Other airlines have also pledged new service to destinations such as Florida, Idaho, California, Mexico and the Netherlands.
On the flip side, JetBlue Airways recently announced it is halting three connections at ABIA: San Francisco; Orlando, Florida; and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. The airline said it’s re-evaluating its services as travel patterns adjust but is growing overall.
“Airlines are recognizing the growth in Austin, specifically, and that AUS is a must to match the growth in the city itself,” Yaft said, using the airport code.