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Austin airport expansion plan includes a new concourse and no South Terminal

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport announced a new expansion program intended to meet ballooning demand on Tuesday.

The program will include building a midfield concourse with at least 10 new gates and two new taxiways, according to a press release. It will be connected to the Barbara Jordan Terminal via an underground tunnel.

Building the concourse will require relocating existing taxiways. Based on the advice of independent consultants, airport officials have decided the best way to do so is to close and remove the South Terminal, according to a memo sent to City Council on Tuesday.

"It is imperative that the South Terminal Facility be removed in a timely manner so that the development of the (concourse) can be completed in a timeframe to match the forecasted growth of airlines at (ABIA)," CEO Jacqueline Yaft wrote.

Keeping pace with growth

The expansion program is intended to help right-size ABIA given the city's population growth and rising demand for air travel in the short term while also setting the stage for the 2040 master plan, a 20-year roadmap finalized in 2019.

Since opening in 1999, ABIA has tripled its passenger numbers. Between 2011 and 2019 it was the third fastest-growing airport in the country. Although the pandemic had a catastrophic impact on airports around the country, with ABIA traffic plummeting 95% last April, there are indications of a rebound.

In April, 841,089 passengers traveled through ABIA, up from 47,7181 in April 2020 but down around 40% compared to April 2019, according to the airport's latest activity report.

ABIA expects that demand this summer will match or surpass that of summer 2019, according to the release. The airport set its current record for passenger travel in July 2019.

"The long-term plan for (ABIA) is a win for all customers and stakeholders and will ensure the airport is able to keep pace with rising demand for many years to come," Yaft wrote.

In addition to closing the South Terminal and adding a new concourse, the expansion program includes improving the Barbara Jordan Terminal, adding more gates and ticket counters as well as a new $77.6 million baggage handling system.

City officials do not yet have a budget estimate for the program but hope to have it finalized later this month, an airport spokesperson said. Funding sources will include airport cash reserves, current and future airport revenues and federal grants, according to the press release.

Closing the South Terminal

The South Terminal—a 30,000-square-foot, $12 million facility that opened in 2017—is currently home to two economy airlines: Allegiant and Frontier.

Although ABIA is owned and operated by the city of Austin, the South Terminal is operated by an outside entity: Lonestar Airport Holdings. As a result, city staff have initiated preliminary discussions to regain control of the terminal and communicated their plans to the affected airlines, the spokesperson said.

"All airlines operating from the South Terminal will not experience service interruption and will be accommodated at the Barbara Jordan Terminal," Yaft wrote.

But the transition will likely come with some growing pains. The South Terminal offers economy airlines a lower-cost space and their customers a more efficient travel experience, with shorter lines and cheaper parking than the Barbara Jordan Terminal.

Allegiant announced in April that it would open a new $75 million base at the South Terminal in November, creating 89 jobs, housing three airplanes and allowing for more routes.

"While we're still learning the details about the (expansion program), we're excited about our future there and are on track to launch base operations in November, as planned," the airline said in a statement shared with Austonia. "(ABIA) has given Allegiant assurances that we will work together on a transition plan and strategy to accommodate our future growth."

Private and general aviation that operate on the airport's south side will not be impacted by the expansion program.

This story was updated on July 15 to include a statement from Allegiant.

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