SA Airport's New Point Person: "We Can Do Better"

Sep 9, 2015

Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras is leading the effort to make San Antonio's airport more competitive.

  

The new point person for the City of San Antonio’s aviation department says he will soon recommend new incentives to attract more non-stop flights to the International Airport.

There’s been a shakeup in aviation personnel since Texas Public Radio documented higher average ticket prices and fewer non-stops from San Antonio than from other major airports in Texas.

San Antonio Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras is now leading the effort to make the city-managed airport more competitive, and he says a new business survey is a starting point. (See survey below)

 On July 31, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the city’s aviation department sent a survey to hundreds of area businesses.  It asked executives if their employees would fly to Boston more often if airlines offered a nonstop route.  And would the businesses be willing to take steps to convince airlines the plane’s seats would be filled?

“We asked the question:  would you be willing to partner in some way with the carriers to show you have a need and you’ll fulfill that need,” Contreras explained.

Contreras says the survey zeroed in on Boston because San Antonio’s bio-medical, cybersecurity, and university employees do a lot of business there.

The survey found that 116 of the 172 businesses that responded said they regularly travel to Boston. Some make as many as 250 trips a year.

Fifty-percent said their trips to Boston would increase if employees could take a non-stop flight. And nearly a quarter – 23 percent- said they’d help attract more non-stops by taking steps that might require them to open up their check books.

“That could be, we’ll fly more; we’ll increase the marketing dollars in the Boston area to get flights both ways; we’ll hold more meetings in San Antonio.  So they’ve already identified ways they can demonstrate to a carrier they’d be willing to be good partners with them,” Contreras said.

Contreras says attracting more non-stops and airlines to San Antonio is what’s needed to make San Antonio’s higher-than-average ticket prices more affordable. One survey Texas Public Radio reported about ranked San Antonio in the bottom third of airports for affordable tickets –71  out of 101 airports- typically more expensive than both Dallas airports, both Houston airports and Austin.

Contreras says turning that around begins with more passengers:

“The more passengers you have, the more carriers that come into the market, the larger planes they’ll offer.  When you have larger planes you have to fill them up so they (the airlines) will offer discounted prices to consumers.”

In a recent Texas Public Radio story San Antonio Chamber of Commerce Chair Contreras Henry Cisneros, a former mayor, said San Antonio’s airport has lost so much ground to Austin’s airport that the economic center of the region could shift to Austin and the Alamo City could become a “little brother” to Austin.

Cisneros’ statement garnered a lot of public attention, and Contreras says San Antonio has gotten a wake-up call:

“We’re not where we need to be, and we can do better.”

He says the aviation department and businesses are using the recent survey results to develop a plan they can take to airlines. They want to convince carriers it’s profitable to expand flights in San Antonio.

San Antonio Chamber Survey