Terminal nears completion: FAA grants funds for final projects

The Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport has received about $8.5 million from the Federal Aviation Administration in recent days, funding that will be used to wrap up the new terminal project, including demolishing the old terminal and reconstructing and expanding a large swath of “air-side” parking for jets in front of the new terminal.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela’s office recently announced $7.6 million in discretionary and entitlement money from the FAA Airport Improvement Program for projects tied to the new 91,000-square-foot, $43.8 million terminal.

An additional $850,000-plus in CARES Act money puts the total at around $8.5 million, said Airport Director Bryant Walker.

“ We had budgeted $8.46 million or something and we wound up getting $8.5 million, so we really nailed the number that we were looking for for that air-side portion,” he said.

Construction of the terminal is on schedule, on budget and expected to be complete during the fourth quarter of this year, Walker said. The pandemic hasn’t affected construction, though it has affected the actual terminal opening, which is up in the air as far as a specific date, he said.

“ We haven’t set any dates for any of that, because we just didn’t know,” Walker said. “It doesn’t look like we’re going to have a vaccine soon enough to actually have a very large scale opening event, so we’re going to have to do some modified event. I know Salt Lake City just opened a terminal, and they had a modified, virtual type opening. We’ll have to do some things like that I’m sure.”

The airport also has to coordinate the opening with the airlines, he said, and it all boils down to logistics and scheduling.

The airline industry itself, meanwhile, continues to take a beating due to the pandemic, Walker said.

“ As of yesterday I think they were running about 57 percent less than what they were a year ago,” he said. “Today they’re at 68 percent, so it fluctuates 10 percent per day.”

Airports industry-wide are seeing about half the number of passengers compared to before the pandemic, and Brownsville’s enplanements are less than half than before the pandemic, Walker said.

“ We’re 60 percent off of what our enplanements were, but our (flight) frequencies and traffic and schedule is identical,” he said. “For a few months we lost some of our aircraft, but they’ve all come back.”

Vela said he’s happy the project is nearing completion, was glad to help secure the FAA money making it possible, and is eager for air travelers to “experience this new and enhanced terminal.”

“ This project has been several years in the making, and the funding from FAA will bring the city one step closer to completing construction of the new terminal,” he said. “Completion of this project will have a significant positive economic impact for South Texas, and I look forward to seeing the finished result very soon.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com