HARLINGEN, RGV – Ultimately, it will be the airlines that will decide if the Rio Grande Valley ends up with one major international airport, rather than the three smaller ones it has now.

This is the view of Marvin “Marv” Esterly, director of aviation at Valley International Airport in Harlingen. Esterly was special guest for a Rio Grande Guardian livestream on Facebook on Tuesday.

The livestream was held to coincide with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate VIA’s new partnership with Frontier Airlines. The airline is now running direct flights from VIA to Chicago and Denver.

Marvin “Marv” Esterly, director of aviation for Valley International Airport, is interviewed by Rio Grande Guardian editor Steve Taylor. (Photo: Ron Whitlock/Ron Whitlock Reports)

The question about merging VIA, McAllen and Brownsville airports in order to improve connectivity to major hubs came about when Esterly was asked about the remarks of his predecessor, Michael Browning. As he was leaving his post as aviation director at VIA, back in 2014, Browning told the Rio Grande Guardian that combining the Valley’s three top airports would be a great boost for the region.

“Michael Browning has done so much for this airport,” Esterly said, pointing out that under Browning’s leadership, VIA protected its perimeter with overlay zoning to make sure there would no encroachment in the future. “My hat’s off to him,” Esterly said of Browning.

As for a combined major airport for the Valley, Esterly said: “Michael’s idea of a one-airport solution, I have got to say I hold that same attitude. I really think that combined, the Rio Grande Valley is stronger.”

Esterly pointed out that airports around the nation “have lost a lot of capacity due to cutbacks” over the years.

“All those airports of our size and larger are out there struggling for air service. The airlines have shrunk in so many ways that all those airports are trying to compete for those capacities. If I am a small airport and I say, ‘hey, I would like you to service our airport,’ it would be easier for them (the airlines) to look at us if we were combined. We would become the eighth largest airport in Texas. We would be a stronger force. We would be a bigger fish than what we are now. It would definitely be something to explore in the future.”

Asked if VIA should be expanded into that one major airport for the Valley, Esterly said it made sense because it is the most centrally located. “I cannot lie about geography, it is what it is,” Esterly said.

He noted that VIA has protections all around it, 26,000 acres of land, two parallel runways, and plenty of room for growth. “There are a lot of pros,” he said.

However, there are many skeptics in the Valley when it comes to discussing the development of one major airport. People say the politicians will never allow it. Esterly’s view is market forces will dictate what happens, in the form of airlines striving for more efficiency.

“It is necessary, I think it is for the future as the Rio Grande Valley continues to grow,” Esterly said of merging the Valley’s airports.

“By going out there and talking to the airlines, showing them the catchment area and how you can service the entire catchment area from one location, saving a lot of overhead, it makes sense to the airlines. The airlines will make that decision in the future. I am sure of that. I truly believe it will happen. I understand it is difficult for everyone to get on the same page but the airlines will make that determination in the future.”

That said, Esterly does not see the Valley having direct flights to Europe anytime soon.

“It is all about connectivity to a major hub and that is what we need to concentrate on at this point in time. We have got the connectivity. It is now about increasing the pipeline. We want to put people in seats, filling the aircraft and then go for additional frequency, which will help us build connectivity to European markets through one of the major hubs,” he said.

Esterly said he fully agrees with an old slogan he once saw: Airports Mean Business. 

To attract more investment, Esterly said, a fast growing region like the Valley needs great schools, leisure facilities and more access to the rest of the world.

“The more hubs you can link to, you have got that access. This allows us to attract additional businesses to the Rio Grande Valley.”

Among the major hubs directly connected to the Valley via VIA are Houston, Dallas, Denver and Chicago.

There seems to be a big announcement every month at Valley International Airport in Harlingen. We’re discussing new developments with Director of Aviation Marv Esterly.

Posted by Rio Grande Guardian on Tuesday, November 27, 2018


  1. “Centrally located”? Harlingen is not the middle of the RGV.

    The RGV is Roma to South Padre Island. That’s 134 miles. The middle of the RGV is Donna. Let’s say it’s Rio Grande City to Brownsville, it’s still the Alamo/Donna area.

    Now, if the airlines want all three airports to merge into one, they should locate where the population center is in the RGV – and that’s Hidalgo County with more than double the population of Cameron County. The numbers are in McAllen, not at VIA and most definitely not in BRO.

    Anyhow, the discussion is a moot point. City leaders will never give up their airports for another’s benefit.