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Austin Playing Catch Up in International Air Travel

Ihwa Cheng for KUT News

As metropolitan economies, like Austin, expand their global reach, international aviation plays a pivotal role—moving passengers from there to here.

But, for the most part, international travel coming into the United States, takes place in many of the same metropolitan gateways. Despite Austin's growing role in technology and other business industries, the city isn't playing a big role in international travel. One major challenge may be the competition provided by bigger Texas cities.

According to a report by The Brookings Institution, 17 areas account for almost three-quarters of all international travel either starting or ending in the U.S. Atop the list of gateway cities is Atlanta, which accounted for more than 6 million international travelers last year.

The Houston Airport System (#4) and the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (#6) are also among America’s most active centers for international air traffic. 

Co-author of the study, Adie Tomer, told KUT's sister station KUHFthat the international travel, taking place to and from Houston, gives the city a major boost in terms of foreign trade:

“When non-U.S. citizens come to the United States, or even purchase air fares on a U.S. carrier, that’s actually counted as an export for the United States. So people traveling around Houston, just seeing the sites, going to the great museums, they actually count as an export for the Houston economy, just as well as selling oil, let’s say, to a foreign market.”

Just two weeks ago, Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced a $50 million expansion of the main terminal at Austin Bergstrom International Airport.

The upgrades at ABIA are attempts to both expedite the length of time travelers have to wait in security lines and increase the total number of international flights coming to and leaving from the Austin.

As Michael Boyd of Boyd Group International, an aviation-consulting company in Colorado, told KUT’s Joy Diaz, the more direct international connections Austin has, the more business will benefit:

“The real value is not how many people go through the airport. The value of Austin is, can people get there from Shanghai? Can the business traveler from Munich get there? The answer is yes, with one stop, one easy connection. So you are competitive globally, that’s what counts. It’s not how many people are wearing out the carpet.”

It will take at least two years to complete the main terminal’s addition.

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