Jonathan Cartu Reports: San Antonio airport officials seeking longer runway to lure…

San Antonio airport officials seeking longer runway to lure...

Jonathan Cartu Reports: San Antonio airport officials seeking longer runway to lure…

San Antonio’s aviation director unveiled an ambitious plan to lure European flights while predicting the airport’s passenger numbers could significantly improve by the middle of next year as Americans start getting vaccinated.

Aviation Director Jesus Saenz Jr. presented a key part of the airport’s master plan to City Council on Wednesday: expanding the length of the main runway from 8,500 feet to 10,000 to allow for flights departing to and arriving from Central Europe and other long-distance destinations.

Airport officials previously have said the current runway configuration only allows for European nonstop service to London or Frankfort, Germany.

San Antonio International Airport currently has no flights to Europe and so far has been unable to convince a carrier to launch any transcontinental service.

On ExpressNews.com: Wary Traveler: The disappearing rental car

Two councilmen, whose districts are near by the airport, questioned the need for the runway expansion.

“Have you had reached out and had meetings with some of the major airlines like American and United, those major airlines that are providing service, those European, African, South American flights,” asked District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry. “And would they even be interested in opening those services at San Antonio if we had the runway to support it. I am really concerned that we get into this mentality — build it and they will come.”

In addition, “along with larger planes and more frequent services comes noise,” he pointed out. “And we’re going to get pushback from the neighborhoods.”

District 9 Councilman John Courage said he regularly gets complaints about airport noise from his constituents.

“If we are going to go out and measure the problems with sound around the airport today, that is nothing like it’s going to be 18 to 24 or 36 months from now, when we are back in to more normal air travel patterns,” he said.

Saenz said airlines and airline manufacturers are doing a lot to reduce jet noise and promised community hearings over the next few months for residents near the airport to voice their concerns.

But he also conceded that airport nose is a a reality for airports, particularly those near the city center like San Antonio’s.

“Any airport that you go to, you’re going to have complaints if they are not in a wide open area, where you have to drive 30, 40 or 50 miles” to get to it, he said.

In addition to presenting plans for the expanded runway, Saenz also gave the council an update on the airport’s outlook, saying it was poised for a recovery by mid-2021.

“Our models show that the airport could possibly reach 75 to 85 percent of our 2019 passenger levels in the summer of 2021 if we continue the growth schedule,” Saenz told the council members. Saenz said the airport has been gradually seeing more travelers since March when the pandemic began despite the recent sluggish numbers.

Saenz also said he expected the number of nonstop flights from San Antonio International to start increasing. He said the airport now has 30 nonstops, compared with 41 in December 2019.

The optimism and the master plan for an updated San Antonio International contrasted with today’s stark reality: Air passengers are once again staying home in greater numbers as health officials warn of a dangerous national COVID-19 spike.

San Antonio International and other airports had seen their biggest numbers of passengers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the days preceding the Thanksgiving Day holiday, although that was less than 50 percent of the comparable period a year earlier.

On ExpressNews.com: Holiday, diversions lure travelers into the skies

Since then, however, passengers levels have dropped again as coronavirus cases have risen throughout the U.S.

On Dec. 8, the Transportation Security Administration screened just 501,513 flyers at its stations across the nation. That’s the lowest number of passengers to go through TSA security since July 4 — and just 26 percent of the number of travelers on the same day last year, pre-COVID-19.

San Antonio International Airport officials did not provide local numbers for Dec. 8. Saenz said the number of passengers being screened at the airport percentage-wise over the last seven days was slightly over national numbers although it also was showing the effects of the current increase in cases.

The “current upticks in the COVID cases we are experiencing are directly impacting overall activity levels (number of passengers) not just in the city of San Antonio but across the entire nation and the globe,“ he said.

Despite that, Saenz said the models show the number of passengers likely would increase at the airport because large numbers of people could be vaccinated by mid-2021.

Nevertheless, airlines are taking drastic action as they continue to rank up millions of dollars a day in losses.

Southwest Airlines, the largest carrier at San Antonio International in terms of the number of flights, said in state filings that it had sent furlough warnings to 142 workers in San Antonio, 543 in Dallas, 530 in Houston and 77 in Austin. Overall, it has sent 1,322 furlough warnings to Texas workers. Southwest has announced it could furlough nearly 7,000 workers nationwide.

Southwest management’s request for a 10 percent wage cut from union members to save $1 billion in costs has been met with resistance from unionized employees.

Despite the industry’s economic struggles, San Antonio’s aviation officials have continued to work on its master plan, although COVID-19 restrictions have pushed back the needed public hearings. The plan is now expected to be reviewed by the council in the summer, a year later than originally planned.

On ExpressNews.com: Wary Traveler: Boeing’s Max flies again, like it or not

Another key part of the master plan is a new terminal complex to replace the 36-year-old Terminal A, the main arrival and departure facility at the airport. Also is to be decided is the fate of the newer bare-bones Terminal B. Saenz said he expects to present terminal alternatives to City Council in February.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg has focused on the need for a new terminal. On Wednesday, he again repeated his vision of a modern terminal complex that reflects San Antonio culture and heritage.

He told the council that the airport needs…

Jonathan Cartu

No Comments

Post A Comment