Feature Photo (above): Satellite aerial view of Terminal A at San Antonio International Airport. Image: Google Earth.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) — The City of San Antonio is planning to expand its international airport to prepare it for the next half century and moves under consideration include acquisition of roughly 220 acres north of the existing runway system.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg formed the Airport System Development Committee earlier this year to examine the airport’s needs. The committee, headed by Denim Group principal John Dickson, met over six months from March to October and was advised by consultants WSP Global Inc. of Montreal, Canada and locally based Francisco Gónima.
John Dickson, chairman of the Airport System Development Committee. Courtesy: Denim Group.
The committee was comprised mostly of chief executives from private sector companies that are either based in or have a substantial presence in Bexar County. Dickson gave City Council the committee’s final recommendation Wednesday afternoon.
A key finding was that it would be impractical and cost prohibitive to construct a new airport at another location. There’s been much speculation over the years about the need for a new airport elsewhere, but aside from the additional time and expense, the amount of land required would mean the location would be a considerable distance away from the city’s urban centers.
Dickson emphasized how attractive it is to have an airport near downtown; San Antonio International Airport can be a 10-minute drive from downtown on a light traffic day.
Dickson noted that when Dallas and Fort Worth were negotiating the deal to create the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport it took an act of Congress (Wright Amendment of 1979) to limit competition from Dallas Love Field. Commercial flights were restricted to the four adjoining border states. But Dallas residents have always preferred the easier access to Love Field and since the restriction was lifted in 2014 passenger traffic has nearly doubled.
Fortunately, the committee concluded that future expansion at the existing airport is possible. Even though the airport appears to be landlocked by the surrounding development, that is not the case, Dickson said.
Approximately half the land area between the runway system and Wurzbach Parkway where new runways could be constructed is green space. There is, however, a large sector to the northwest that is heavily developed and would be expensive to acquire. Another expense would be relocating Mud Creek, a tributary to Salado Creek.
Dickson also mentioned that the airport growth projections used were accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration the day of his presentation to council.
The committee is to stay intact and proceed on Phase II work. This involves an examination of the alternatives for airfield systems, the scale and location of a new terminal (three sites were suggested), as well as the reconfiguration of roads. The committee must then formulate a development plan while City Council looks for ways to pay for the project. The steps to implement the plan–environmental studies, engineering and land acquisition–would follow.
The time available to make these changes is short. The airport has sufficient capacity today, but the committee stated that a critical situation will occur when activity reaches 80 percent of maximum capacity. This is when operations begin to suffer and delays increase exponentially.
The airport will reach 80 percent capacity for the existing runways by 2023, Dickson said.
Courtesy: City of San Antonio.
San Antonio International has three runways. There is a NE-to-SW runway parallel to Wetmore Road that services cargo aircraft.
The main runway and a general aviation runway are parallel to each other at a NW-to-SE angle. These runways are “dependent parallel,” an aviation term that means they are too close together to allow simultaneous approaches; pilots must make staggered approaches. The preferred alternative is to have “independent parallel” runways, which permit simultaneous approaches, thus increasing air traffic capacity.
The goal is to have an alternate dependent parallel runway system in place by extending the shorter general aviation runway by 2023, and to have “independent parallel” runways in place by 2039. The centerlines of independent parallel runways must be at least 4,300 feet apart.
Options 1 and 2–the blue and green clouds–for a future terminal would be adjacent to the existing terminal. Courtesy: City of San Antonio.
The existing terminal has 24 gates and a gross area of 734,000 square feet. By 2038, the terminal will need 35 gates and a gross area of 1.2 million square feet. By 2068, the terminal will need 63 to 65 gates and a gross area of 2.1 million square feet.
Option 3 for the new terminal would place it between the existing runways and the new runways. Courtesy: City of San Antonio.