Austin-Bergstrom International (ABIA): Planning the Airport of the Future

A recent article in the Austin American-Statesman illustrated the need for a new master plan for the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) which has continued to expand to accommodate Austin’s explosive growth rate since the start of the millennium with no slowdown in sight. The airport opened to the public in 1999 and the Page-co-designed Barbara Jordan Terminal saw approximately 6.6 million passengers in 2000. In 2017, nearly 14 million passengers visited the airport. This was both an increase of 11.5% over the previous record year of 2016 and a 48% increase since it opened. Per the Federal Aviation Administration, ABIA is poised to jump from near the top of the medium hub airport category into the large hub category. Page is returning to work on ABIA yet again, this time as a member of the Landrum & Brown-led project team, to consult on the ABIA 2040 Master Plan.

The plan is currently in the Visioning, or preliminary, phase. An initial public outreach meeting was held to involve members of the community and gather information, and the second is scheduled for Thursday, April 19 from 6:00-8:00pm. Page Senior Project Manager Paul Bielamowicz, who led the firm’s efforts on the subsequent East Infill expansion to the Barbara Jordan Terminal, explains that attendees can expect to learn about officials’ objective to plan “the airport of the future”. They’ll hear about the ABIA 2040 Master Plan, facts about the airport and discuss aspects of the plan with members of the team and ABIA staff. Then, they’ll be asked to share their feedback on the vision, potential community impacts and make suggestions. 

As the Austin American-Statesman pointed out, there is more to an airport than the number of passengers. More destinations from ABIA have been added over the years, resulting in increased capacity needs in areas such as gates, ticketing and check-in, baggage handling, security screening and customs processing. Passengers also need amenities such as restaurants, which are a significant part of the passenger experience, and also an important source of revenue for the airport. To provide an idea of the volume, in 2017 ABIA passengers ate 684,199 breakfast tacos and 61.5 tons of brisket alone, washing down at least some of that with 18,300 bottles of Shiner Bock. Additionally, according to Travel + Leisure which has consistently ranked ABIA in its Top Ten Best Airports since 2013, airport amenities can influence travel decisions. The publication cites elements that are considered in its rankings such as passenger processing, restaurants and bars, shopping and design.

When Page co-designed the Barbara Jordan Passenger Terminal with Gensler, it was very important to the project team that it reflect Austin’s unique character, culture and heritage since the airport often serves as a first impression of the city. This was accomplished through openness in the design, use of local materials and iconography and a relaxed, informal social character. Locally branded restaurants and live music venues inside the terminal also help to create a uniquely “Austin” experience. The crescent-shaped terminal organization is simple and direct, providing easy orientation to the passenger and public. It minimizes walking distances from curbside to gates while maximizing visibility of the large central marketplace adjacent to the gate areas.  From this central space, the sustainably-designed building opens out onto the apron, planes and runways, as well as to the open countryside and big Texas skies beyond — combining this city’s love of nature and the outdoors with a connection to flight.

As the airport’s needs grew, the airline industry was reinventing itself to focus on enhancing the passenger experience and the design of the ABIA Terminal East Infill expansion reflects this. The project expanded existing passenger processing capabilities for security screening, ticketing, customs, and baggage handling in preparation for a nine-gate expansion of the East concourse. The additional square footage in the terminal reshaped the entrance to the airport with a multi-story, windowed and colorful terminal adjacent to much of the pedestrian area of the airport. The new passenger security screening checkpoint with eight lanes is expandable up to ten, and a larger customs area was designed leveraging new technologies to support increased self-service options and faster processing times. The project, which has achieved LEED Silver certification, also added a connection from the east ticket lobby to the concourse at Gate Five.

Page is pleased to have this opportunity to continue participating in urban and civic planning for Austin, particularly as the firm was founded here in 1898 and “grew up” with the city. We are proud to be part of the ABIA 2040 Master Plan project team, bringing innovative solutions befitting the culture, heritage and entrepreneurial spirit of our growing community.