Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Mayor Ron Nirenberg expects a new committee of business, aviation, and tourism experts to help gather and analyze data that will help City officials determine the best course for enhancing air transportation in San Antonio now and in the long term.
The panel will study whether – and how – to enhance the current international airport, as well as consider the feasibility of an additional regional airport.
"We've made significant progress over the last several years," Nirenberg told the Rivard Report Wednesday. "But air service in the future for San Antonio will be a critical backbone to our transportation system [and] our economy."
Nirenberg said he is reaching out to people he wants to tap for the committee, but declined to say who is on his roster. The mayor appointed Denim Group Principal John Dickson to lead the effort.
"In my estimation, where [the airport] is today is a strategic competitive advantage for the city of San Antonio, and we are making investments in it," Nirenberg said. "We want to make sure where those investments are over the next 50 years is driven by data."
The committee will recommend whether the best course ahead means expanding the existing airport or constructing a new one, Nirenberg said. The committee's focus on air service is part of a larger examination by City and County officials of San Antonio's overall transportation system. Nirenberg said he believes the committee may produce findings and recommendations in six months. (It begins its work in January.)
Dickson, a cybersecurity expert, business executive, and former U.S. Air Force officer, said he welcomed the opportunity to help map the future of air transportation in San Antonio.
"The idea here, the big idea, is to really take a deep look at what we have, compare ourselves to others, and think of the opportunities in the next 50 years," Dickson said. "Where is the entire industry going to be?"
He sees the committee's mission as a chance to get past the "grumbling" over the airport's weaknesses. San Antonio International Airport's lack of direct and nonstop flights to many major national and international destinations is often cited as a restraint to business growth.
Nirenberg believes that acquiring nonstop flights to major airports such as Reagan International in Washington, D.C., or Heathrow in London, depends on having a workforce that creates a market for those flights. He and other local officials have seen that momentum in the acquisition of direct flights from San Antonio to and from Philadelphia and Mexico City.
A frequent flyer both domestically and internationally, Dickson said San Antonio's airport has advantages to build on that other cities do not: its central location to downtown and other major business corridors; its relatively new Terminal B, which opened in 2010; and its close proximity to rental car services once the new parking garage, with its skybridge, is completed and opens next spring.
There's room to expand at the current airport, said San Antonio Aviation Director Russ Handy. Learning about the committee was "fantastic news," he said, and he hopes it will work in sync with his department's strategic planning efforts for the airport.
"Expansion of our airport system capacity is inevitable," Handy said. "Not a matter of if, but when, how, and how large."
The San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce praised the mayor's plan to create the committee and singled out Dickson as a capable leader.
"Mayor Nirenberg has accurately determined that for our city to compete globally, it demands a world class international airport to bring us forward to the point where other great cities already are," said Ramiro Cavazos, the Hispanic Chamber's president and chief executive officer.
San Antonio Economic Development Foundation President and CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera said the committee's formation comes at an ideal point in time.
"As momentum continues to build for the San Antonio International Airport with 17 new routes added in the last 18 months alone, it is an ideal time to review our airport’s long-term growth plans to ensure continued success that will best benefit our San Antonio community and the broader region."