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Sky’s the Limit at San Antonio International

By Kevin Thompson  ::  Photography courtesy of San Antonio International Airport

Airports are necessary evils you gladly endure to achieve the goals they put within your reach. Whether it’s business or pleasure, sightseeing or grandkid watching, air travel expands your reach. 

And at 31 miles from the gates of Cordillera Ranch, San Antonio International Airport (SAT) puts air travel well within your reach.

San Antonio’s metro population of 2.5 million is a fraction of Dallas-Fort Worth (pop. 7.4 million) or Houston (pop. 6.9 million). The population gap puts San Antonio’s airport at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the other two points on the Texas triangle.

Both DFW Airport and Houston’s Bush Intercontinental are central hubs for American Airlines and United Airlines, respectively. In addition, Southwest Airlines has targeted secondary airports in both metro areas. It’s a bit of a double whammy.

“I can’t think of another location in America that is an hour flight from so much capacity,” said John Dickson, chairman of SAT’s System Development Committee, a mayor-appointed task force created to make recommendations for improving San Antonio’s airport. A principal with cybersecurity firm Denim Group, Dickson himself is a million-mile traveler.

Getting squeezed by Texas giants doesn’t mean there’s only turbulence ahead for SAT, however. San Antonio has plenty going for it, not the least of which is population growth. “Economic development is driving a growing ridership,” Dickson said. “As the community grows, so does the demand for air service.”

SAT sets passenger records nearly every month. More than 835,000 people flew into or out of San Antonio in April. 

Twelve airlines offer a total of 54 direct flights from SAT. San Antonio’s heavy military presence allows for a disproportionate number of nonstop flights to destinations like Washington, D.C. SAT actually began as a military airfield in 1941.

Frontier Airlines recently announced new direct service to Salt Lake City and Orange County. Frontier offers 25 direct flights from SAT. Dickson sees a trend with smaller carriers like Frontier. “There’s a lot of promise with newer airlines willing to take a bet on San Antonio,” Dickson believes. “There’s also opportunity with respect to flights into northern Mexico.”

Perhaps the biggest trend to watch is the push toward smaller, quieter, stronger and more fuel-efficient aircraft. Boeing’s 737 Max 10 is an example. The model offers “unrivaled profits” according to Boeing’s website. “Commercial carriers are trying to maximize earnings by minimizing fuel costs,” Dickson explained. “Smaller, more efficient aircraft don’t need the runway space older planes did.” 

With 2,600 total acres, San Antonio International has plenty of room to expand. And with noise becoming less of a factor on newer airplane models, Dickson says SAT’s central location at the intersection of two major thoroughfares is an advantage. “We might not need 12,000-foot runways on the outskirts of town,” Dickson said. 

Dickson compliments city leaders for investing appropriately in the airport over the last few decades. A case in point is the recently completed centralized rental car and short-term parking facility. The $178 million project came on the heels of a new terminal that houses American and United Airlines. Southwest Airlines anchors SAT’s other terminal.

Contrast that with the $3 billion Salt Lake is spending to rebuild its port or the $980 million Kansas City taxpayers will soon spend to overhaul theirs.

Besides commercial flights, private and personalized options abound at SAT. Three fixed base operators serve a variety of charter and membership-based offerings. Whether you need a turboprop for a meeting in Houston or a jet for a trip to a coast, companies like Jet Linx have you covered. “We offer the power of a national fleet combined with local, personalized private jet travel,” Jet Linx’s Tom Northington said. “We offer guaranteed hourly rates, guaranteed jet availability and guaranteed highest standards of safety.”

With Jet Linx you can drive your car directly to your aircraft and have your car secured at a private location. Jet Linx will clean and wash it while you’re gone. “It’s all part of our personalized approach to delivering bespoke service to our clients,” Northington stated.

What SAT lacks in terms of size or scale, it makes up for with efficiency and ease of use. Dickson hopes to keep it that way. “We’re looking at the needs of the airport 30 to 50 years down the line,” he concluded. “For example, multi-modal opportunities to connect with other forms of transportation.”

The sky has always been the limit for San Antonio International. With innovative, traveler-centric thinkers at work, it is also now within our reach.

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