Interview: Earning Their Spurs

City of San Antonio airport director Jesus Saenz outlines why the airport has been able to attract new carriers and increase its international network.

Credit: SAT

City of San Antonio airport director Jesus Saenz.

How have things been at SAT since the pandemic?

Obviously, we’ve all had to adapt and transform but overall spirits remain high. We have a really incredible team and we continue to do incredible things. We’ve already put ourselves in a very good financial position, we’ve already left that negative position that all airports were moving to, and we’re back in a stable and neutral position. On the air service development side, we’ve been fortunate to land a couple of good airlines, including Breeze, where we were one of their first 16 launch cities. We were able to start up service with JetBlue on the long-sought-after Boston route, along with JFK as well. We’ve had a really good partnership on the international side with Viva Aerobus, and we’ve managed to exceed the numbers of 2019 international movements in 2021, when most airports would be below those levels. We’ve been able to add nonstop service to the Bahía region to León, along with additional service to Mexico City, and that helped us rebound nicely on the international footprint. Most recently we had a partnership with our hometown NBA team San Antonio Spurs and Viva Aerobus, who will be wrapping an aircraft with the Spurs’ branding.

What attracts these airlines to SAT?

I think the city speaks for itself. It has incredible charm, incredible history, and people just enjoy being here. We are the number one leisure destination in the state of Texas. We are also beginning to grow as a city for many different reasons. If you look at the growth of Dallas, Houston and Austin, San Antonio is the baby of the four but we’re beginning to grow. Some of those airlines’ first comments would also be what an incredible team we have here at this airport system, and the confidence they have in our ability to perform and deliver on the level of services that we’re committing to. If we look at the existing footprint of our assets, the overall terminal complex and our airfield, I think that’s very attractive to them. And they see that we’ll be taking a 24-gate facility to somewhere close to 37 gates in the next three to five years as we grow and expand our existing footprint.

What are your short- and medium-term targets?

First and foremost, it’s ensuring that safety continues to be the pillar of everything that we do as we continue to get ourselves out of this horrific pandemic. But beyond that, maintaining and increasing the overall service development footprint. We have been able to add additional nonstop destinations here in the US and we aim to exponentially grow our international footprint with a heavy emphasis on Mexico, Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean, and then with hopes of moving toward Europe within the next 12-18 months.

What is your package for airlines?

We have a very attractive and robust incentive program that offers marketing and fee waivers, open to any carrier for new service and new markets, and that’s both for domestic and international. Each time that I’ve been able to sit down and represent what we have to offer to airlines, whether it be just the city or with the entire San Antonio community, we’ve been able to provide some really attractive opportunities. This allows them to expand their level of service and gives them an opportunity to come in and start a footprint and a foundation that eventually begins to exponentially grow.

Do you plan to attract more carriers or increase service with existing partners?

It’s a mixture. We have a really fantastic portfolio of airlines and everyone plays well with each other. And we want to continue to support each of them as they expand their service footprint here at our airport and beyond. It’s also important to bring in new carriers, open new markets and increase the competition, which will benefit both the consumer with better prices and the airlines as they can continue to attract more service here in San Antonio.