Business leaders see continued growth thanks to airport expansion plans

Monday, March 28, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Even with somewhat scaled-back expansion plans due to the financial impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, local business leaders view the continued growth of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport as vital to the economic outlook at long term in the region.

At a recent panel hosted by Urban Land Institute Austin, airport executives presented the revised scope and timeline for the expansion which is expected to begin later this year and end in 2027.

Before the pandemic, the facility’s 2040 master plan, which was completed in 2018, called for a schedule of about $4.5 billion, comprising 61 projects that would be completed in four phases. The revised three-phase plan now focuses on optimizing the Barbara Jordan Terminal, improving airfield infrastructure and developing an Intermediate Concourse B to accommodate continued growth to 30 million annual passenger d 2037.

While traffic at the airport has dropped drastically during the pandemic, it started showing year-on-year increases again last summer. Forecasts now call for monthly increases of 20-30% year-on-year as travelers spend aggressively on ancillary items such as food and drink, said Mukesh Patel, the airport’s chief financial officer.

“Our region is what sustains the airport, and vice versa, the airport is what drives people and commerce in our community,” he said. “As we look to 2022, it’s as if Covid never happened. It’s a very strong and resilient market and we’re seeing traffic coming back strong.

Patel pointed to a 2018 Texas Department of Transportation study that attributed $7.8 billion in economic activity and 74,000 local jobs to the airport, which sees its heaviest traffic around major local events such as South by Southwest in March and the United States Automobile Grand Prix. race every fall.

Along with other major events and continued business growth in the region, ABIA is expected to reach 290 daily departures once the expansion is complete.

Tracy Thompson, director of administrative and external affairs at the airport, said full cost estimates for the revised expansion were being finalized. Funding will come from a mix of existing cash reserves, future revenue and bond projects, grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and the federal infrastructure spending program.

Laura Huffman, president and CEO of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said ambitious and necessary infrastructure projects, such as the airport expansion, are part of why Austin has seen strong growth. continued relocation of businesses and tourism.

“There’s an intersection happening right now of three things in Austin that’s never really happened before, and that’s remarkable. The main reason we’re seeing what’s happening in terms of economic growth is our talent and our significant investments in infrastructure,” she said. “As we sit here today, we have $20 billion worth of major infrastructure projects that we will see over the next few decades…this are things that are completely tied to Austin’s values.”

Employment at the airport will soon increase by 80 positions thanks to a $2.2 million budget amendment approved by city council last week. In January, the Board decided on $46 million in preparation costs for planned upgrades to the Jordan Terminal.

The most publicized concern about the airport’s need for growth came from neighboring residents who protested the planned move of a jet fuel storage facility to the north side of U.S. Highway 183. This project was scheduled to begin soon and reportedly resulted in the storage of 1.5 million gallons of fuel within 500 feet of nearby homes.

Council member Vanessa Fuentes, whose district includes the airport, proposed a different relocation plan for the tanks, with that issue to be decided on April 7.

Photo by Altairkh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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