It’s a two-block walk from the historic Pan American Airways Complex to the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport‘s emerging $70 million passenger terminal.
The 91,000-square-foot terminal is within easy view of the spot where on March 9, 1931, Charles Lindbergh flew in for the opening ceremonies of Brownsville’s first airport with Amelia Earhart in attendance. History will be made again in December 2020 when Brownsville transforms air travel again with the opening of a sleek new terminal.
It will be an astonishing upgrade in facilities of the current 37,000-square-foot terminal that has a 1970s feel. The new two-story terminal is modern and efficient with expansive window views. An exterior design emulates a bird’s wingspan in its facade with a rolling ocean wave rooftop.
The bottom floor will be for passenger check-in, baggage claim and airport administration offices. The top floor will be for passenger check in with four gates and ample boarding space areas. There will also be an increase in new parking spaces for short and long-term parking.
“An airport is the gateway to the community,” said Francisco Partida, the airport’s special projects manager. “When a business person visits and comes through the doors of an airport, it’s the first face they see of a city.”
Showing A New Face
It will soon be an entirely new face in Brownsville. The city has a rich aviation history beyond the visits of global aviation icons like Lindbergh and Earhart. In the mid-20th century, Brownsville served as the Pan Am Airways hub for U.S. flights going to all points in Latin America. It has been eclipsed in more recent times for passenger travel by neighboring airports in Harlingen and McAllen. By the looks of it, that may soon change.
The new Brownsville passenger terminal is more than the equal of similar facilities to the other Valley airports. Partida said the airport is looking to double its volume of air travelers in the coming years.
“We know a lot of our customers go to other Valley airports,” he said. “We’re the largest city in Cameron County and there’s no reason to be losing business from our market to other airports. I think we will see a logical shift back to the home airport.”
The Brownsville South Padre airport currently houses American and United airlines for passenger travel. The airport would like to have additional carriers, Partida said, but the emphasis is more on growing local air travel. They are also looking to add to the existing number of flights that make sense for customers and the market. One focus may be on more flights to the Midwest with business travel to automotive manufacturing and operational facilities in both Matamoros and Brownsville.
“It’s not about aiming for five or six airlines although we will certainly have the capacity to add more carriers,” Partida said. “It’s about satisfying customer needs.”
The city was able to secure $30 million in federal funding for the new terminal. The remaining funding came from local sources. From its groundbreaking in January 2018 to the present, Partida said the two-phase construction plan has gone smoothly. The expectancy is to open at the end of 2020.
“Brownsville is just filled with opportunities,” Partida said. He cites SpaceX and the many improvements and projects at the Port of Brownsville. “It’s really exciting for us to be part of the growth we’re seeing in Brownsville.”