San Antonio airports face growth, upgrades

For many travelers, San Antonio International Airport is the city's gateway, and lately this gateway has been very busy.

Traffic hit a record high last year with 7.4 million passengers, beating the previous record -- set in 2000, before terrorist attacks sent the aviation industry into a tailspin -- by almost 2 percent.

And in the first four months of this year, traffic jumped 12 percent.

"Nobody's got a crystal ball but we've been seeing monthly increases," said Mark Webb, who was named aviation director in June.

But work is under way to position the airport for decades of growth to come, Webb said.

Officials expect to start construction this year on a five-story, 3,000-space garage and an extension of an elevated roadway, and by January on a seven-gate terminal. Work is scheduled to finish in late 2008.

The projects are part of a $425 million plan that includes building two terminals, razing an old terminal and upgrading runways by 2011.

When finished, the airport will have better runways to handle more flights, 50 percent more parking and up to 10 more passenger gates to bring the total to 34.

"There are a number of things that we've been working on," Webb said.

Stinson Municipal Airport, the general aviation reliever for the main airport, is also about to undergo big changes.

Construction has started on a $4.8 million project to quadruple the terminal. When finished next year there will be retail areas, car rental counters, more offices and conference rooms, additional restaurant space and room to house Palo Alto College's aviation program.

Officials also hope to sign contracts this year to bring in about $4 million in private investments for new hangars and other improvements.

Next year, work could start on a $5 million project to lengthen a runway for corporate jets landing there.