AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: A previous version of this story said LoneStar was the owner of the South Terminal. It has been edited to reflect the City owns the terminal, while LoneStar operates it but is not the owner.
Expansion plans are moving forward at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) for the "most extensive improvement program in its history."
The airport said following the pandemic's significant impacts to air travel, AUS re-strategized its original expansion plan to meet the needs of post-pandemic travel. The Airport Expansion Development Program (AEDP) includes components of the 2040 Master Plan that meet immediate needs.
Since March, the airport has seen significant and consistent passenger growth. Summer travel activity is on track to match or exceed the activity of 2019. As the airport continues to experience a post-pandemic rebound, the planned improvements "will be scalable to meet a range of forecasted growth profiles and provide a foundation for future growth and development."
"With this program, we are transforming the future of AUS – without the need for taxpayer funding," said Jacqueline Yaft, chief executive officer of AUS. "We will create the infrastructure and facilities needed to support our growing city and our airline partners as they continue to invest in Austin. The Program will help us build a better airport and deliver an upgraded passenger experience – one that is not only safe, comfortable and convenient, but also reflects the city’s distinct culture and community."
The program will include:
- Optimization of the Barbara Jordan Terminal
- Enabling airfield and utility work to include building a new Central Utility Plant and removing existing structures to prepare for construction activities
- Preparing for a new Midfield Concourse with more than 10 new gates and two new taxiways
Optimizing the terminal will come with significant changes over the next few years, including more gate space, an additional security checkpoint, expanded ticket counters and a new baggage handling system.
Options for more gate space include flyers boarding a bus from the terminal to take to the tarmac to board their aircraft. Initial plans show three hardstands where aircraft would park with later plans of expanding to six. Another option is to add gates on the west end of the concourse.
"It allows us to kickstart projects that will help meet the needs of our immediate growth while kind of setting the stage and the foundation for us to reach our long-term goals reflected in the 2040 Master Plan," said Sam Haynes, a spokesperson for the airport.
The current atrium overlooking the baggage claim could be filled in as a way to make space for expanded airline ticket counters, initial plans show.
To prepare for the new Midfield Concourse, the South Terminal at Austin's airport will have to close and be removed within the next two years, according to a memo Yaft wrote to Austin city leaders.
"It is imperative that the South Terminal Facility be removed in a timely manner so that the development of the Midfield Concourse B can be completed in a timeframe to match the forecasted growth of the airlines at AUS," Yaft wrote.
The City owns the South Terminal but leases it to an outside business operator who manages operations at the terminal, so it will have to negotiate "a fair and amicable result" to regain the facility, Yaft wrote. The terminal is currently managed by an outside entity known as Highstar Capital/Lonestar Airport Holdings.
A source familiar with Lonestar Holdings told KVUE that the company was surprised by this announcement and is exploring all options to preserve the company’s rights under their 40-year-lease agreement with the City.
"I'll be meeting with airport staff in the next few weeks to learn more about the proposal and certainly will be asking questions to ensure that we're doing right by our community," said District 2 Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes, who represents the area where the airport is located. "We're already seeing a rebound and we're very lucky here in Austin to have a thriving airport."
As part of the process, Yaft said Austin's airport staff will work with airlines and South Terminal tenants to accommodate the change. The airlines that use the terminal, Allegiant and Frontier, are not expected to experience any service interruptions.
The businesses that operate inside the South Terminal could have future opportunities in the Barbara Jordan Terminal, Yaft wrote.
The improvements will be funded through sources like airport cash reserves, current and future airport revenues, future revenue bond proceeds and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants. Contract opportunities to support the improvements will be released later this summer, with public engagement opportunities expected to begin this fall.
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