Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) is preparing for some major growth. The airport will be undergoing some construction that will see it prepare to handle the increase in traffic expected over the coming years while also leaving plenty of room for expansion in the future. The primary focuses for the airport improvement program include further optimizing the existing Barbara Jordan Terminal while building out a new midfield concourse. Here is what the airport is planning.
Austin needs to grow to handle traffic
First and foremost, it is necessary to understand that Austin’s airport needs to grow to handle the increased traffic airlines want to bring. Traffic is on the rebound at the airport. For example, in May 2021, the airport served over 1.1 million travelers, which was down under 30% from the 1.5 million passengers it served in May 2019.
June, July, and August numbers are expected to be relatively high for the airport, and overall summer traveler numbers at Austin could surpass the same time period. The airport also charted out three different profiles of the recovery. There are three tracks: Low Growth, Mid Growth, and High Growth.
According to these projections, if the industry hits a low growth return, Austine expects to see 2019-levels of traffic return in 2026. From a mid-growth perspective, that return is in 2025, while high growth would see a return in 2023.
Based on current traffic levels, a high growth return seems very likely, or even that return could come sooner. That will depend on the return of long-haul international travel, as well as how domestic carriers grow. Even during the crisis, and as the industry comes out of it, Austin is proving to be a very key market.
Airlines are boosting services
While an increase in traffic can come from upgauging aircraft or utilizing gates more efficiently, some airlines have also turned to flying more out of the airport. For example, American Airlines has been adding new destinations and building a mini focus city out of the airport. Come this fall, the carrier is expected to operate up 75 daily flights from Austin.
Even the leading airline in Austin, Southwest Airlines, has been adding new services out of the city. This summer, it hit a record 38 cities served out of the airport, and it certainly has options to add more.
Another carrier, Allegiant Air, is expecting to turn Austin into a base this November. Seven new routes will be added when the carrier officially opens the base this November. In addition, Alaska Airlines has also added new flying and plans to inaugurate a Palm Springs route this fall.
One of the splashiest additions to Austin’s portfolio of carriers was Hawaiian, which started thrice-weekly flights to Honolulu. In the winter, the carrier will drop that down to twice-weekly service.
Austin plans to expand
Under the Airport Expansion and Development Program (AEDP), AUS has two major strategies. The first is to optimize the Barbara Jordan Terminal, and the second is to develop a Concourse B.
The Barbara Jordan Terminal is the existing terminal at Austin where most travelers arrive and depart from. This terminal was the original terminal serving the airport and opened in 1999. Nearly every airline at Austin serves this terminal, save for Allegiant and Frontier, which operate out of the South Terminal.
The optimization at this existing terminal will see a reopened security checkpoint on the east side of the atrium. Further ticket counter extensions and a new checked bag screening system will help add more room for passenger processing and update the baggage infrastructure to handle the influx of passengers’ luggage. In addition, there are plans to expand with new gates to handle departures out of Austin.
Gate 13, an existing apron-level gate, will be used for busing operations. This model works well for short-term growth that exceeds an airport’s current capabilities to handle more flying. A very infamous bus gate in the US, Washington National’s Gate 35X, shut down a few months ago but was used to allow the airport to serve more flights as it planned a new concourse. Gate 13 will service three narrowbody aircraft hardstands.
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Those three hardstands are a near-term solution, as Austin looks to add six new hardstand positions with a new busing gates facility near Gate 11. This will help service additional flights during the peak hours when there is not enough gate availability or help support the airport in case of irregular operations.
In addition, Austin is planning to add new gate capacity on the western end of the Barbara Jordan Terminal. There are two options to get to three new contact gates. One would serve as a holdroom with passengers walking to the ramp. The other would be a full concourse extension.
The timeline for Barbara Jordan is as follows:
- Open near term Gate 13 remote ops by the fourth quarter of 2021
- Additional security checkpoint opens in the first quarter of 2022
- Incremental ticket counter additions by the first quarter of 2023
- Gate 11 remote ops by the second quarter of 2023
- Baggage system modernization by the fourth quarter of 2023
- New gate capacity at the west end of the concourse by the fourth quarter of 2024
A brand new Concourse B
The major addition to the airport is the construction of a new Concourse B. This is a new midfield concourse with at least 10 gates connected via an underground tunnel with the Barbara Jordan Terminal and will be located south of the existing terminal.
Midfield concourses are quite common in the airline world. Many airports, ranging from Los Angeles to Detroit, have concourses that passengers have to access either via underground tunnel or via a bus connection to the midfield concourse.
Generally speaking, airports have developed roadways that fit an existing terminal blueprint, and it becomes difficult to expand or add new terminals that also provide convenient landside access. In Austin, a similar story plays out. The midfield concourse will also be connected to the security in the Barbara Jordan Terminal.
As part of the growth, Austin will shut down the South Terminal facility to add new taxiways and build an operationally efficient airport. All airlines operating from the South Terminal (Frontier and Allegiant) will be accommodated at the Barbara Jordan Terminal. It is unclear whether the cost of operating out of the terminal will be passed on to the ultra-low-cost carriers operating out of the South Terminal. One option could be to have the ULCCs operate primarily out of the remote gates requiring access via a bus.
At the end of the day, Austin is focused on growing its operations and sustaining the increasing number of passengers arriving and departing every year. Airlines are also keen to add flying out of the city, and the expanded gate and hardstand options will give carriers plenty of opportunities to expand their operations.
The plan is to finish working on the Barbara Jordan Terminal by 2023 or 2024 at the latest. Concourse B is expected to be completed by 2027 at the latest, with ongoing airfield infrastructure enhancements from 2022 through 2025.
Are you glad to see Austin create plans to expand? Let us know in the comments!