AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Explosive growth” at Austin’s airport has led officials to reevaluate terminal designs and plans for additional capacity as the airport hits passenger forecasts years ahead of schedule.
“We have been reevaluating the design parameters… to accommodate the rapid growth, the almost explosive growth, that happened in 2022,” Somer Shindler, the airport’s chief development officer, said in a Wednesday meeting of the Airport Advisory Commission.
“The forecast that we had planned to see in 2028, we’re actually hitting it this year, right now,” Shindler said. “So that means, and you can all feel it when you fly through the airport, that all the processing units have already hit their capacity.”
The airport saw record passenger totals last year, with more than 21 million passengers flying out of AUS. All 10 of the top 10 busiest months in airport history were recorded in 2022.
Shindler said AUS officials are looking at some “immediate projects” to provide relief, noting that the airport has recently added more security checkpoints and started construction on a new baggage handling system. They’re also reevaluating other places in the terminal to add more queue space, as well as the layout of the east checkpoint.
“It’s the terminal and the concourse, the gates and the processing units, ticket counters and checkpoints that are currently out of capacity,” Shindler said.
“We are really behind, and it’s going to be very hard for us to catch up,” said Scott Madole, a board member of the commission.
The new forecast includes a greater need for international gates, Shindler said. In 2022 alone, new international routes to Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico, Canada and Jamaica were added to the airport’s schedule. Last month, Copa Airlines announced plans to begin flights to Panama in July.
“We’ve also been able to establish that we will be needing 20 gates immediately. I know we’ve communicated 10 plus, but we now need 20,” Shindler said. “Right now, we’re looking at sequencing of how we start to turn over these gates in a phased way so we’re not waiting until the entire terminal concourse is done.”
Shindler said initial timelines are expected by mid-April.
“I know it’s unprecedented in this industry for us to say we can’t add any more flights,” said Eugene Sepulveda, chairman of the advisory commission.
Eugene Supulveda, chairman of the advisory commission, stressed the need for more safety infrastructure as the airport grows, especially in light of a recent near-collision between two planes on the runway.
“It’s not only physical infrastructure that should be the dimension by which we’re looking at the restraint, but it’s also the safety infrastructure, and that’s what I feel like is the Achille’s heel right now,” Sepulveda said.
The airport does currently have capacity on the operation and runway side, Shindler said, but future growth could trigger a runway extension in the future. The airport does evaluations of its pavement — runways, taxiways and aprons — every three years.
“The focus we talk about all the time is the terminal because that’s where we’re hitting capacity, but we do have a focus on the safety elements of our pavement,” Shindler said.
Commissioners approved a demolition contract at Wednesday’s meeting with STR Constructors, LLC, to remove old buildings as part of expansion efforts.
The contract is to remove 39 buildings originally used when AUS was an air force base. Airport officials say the buildings are now a safety hazard and no longer serve an operational need, so need to be removed to make way for future development.
The contract, if approved by City Council, would be for a total amount not to exceed $4,005,280.