HARLINGEN, Texas – The aviation director for Valley International Airport recently gave a presentation about the growth of his airport.

Marv Esterly spoke at Texas State Technical College at an event hosted jointly by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and Harlingen Economic Development Corporation. He talked about expanding the impact of the Valley International Airport, through both domestic and international flights, and the airport’s importance to the people of the Valley.

“Over the last few 30 some years, I realized how much impact the airports have on communities,” Esterly said. “Not just for leisure travel but for business and cargo travel. I’m not saying every city needs an airport but you definitely need good access to good air transportation and good air service and a good way to get to anywhere in the world through connecting hubs.”

Esterly recalled his first impression of the Valley International Airport back in 2015 and how it looked like an “abandoned mall.”

“When I got here, I saw this blank slate. It was 2015, and I’m thinking it was a fabulous airport with lots of land and lots of things that can happen,” Esterly said. “It was a blank slate with all of the bones there in order to build air service, in order to build business here at the airport and working closely with our partners here at the EDC because they mean business and in order to sell the city of Harlingen they need a good airport. An airport that not only the citizens can be proud of but a good airport that is a functional operation for businesses throughout the Rio Grande Valley.”

Esterly spoke about lowering the cost of air travel for both businesses and families and its process.

“We want to lower your cost, our mission is to ensure that your businesses and your families have great air service,” Esterly said. 

“We can’t do that when we overcharge the airline. If their cost to do business in the Valley International Airport is sky high they aren’t going to take risk in putting new service in and new destinations. So we have been working real diligently in the last several years to lower those costs to the carriers and I think it’s really paying off.”

Carriers are extremely price sensitive, especially in this particular time. Carriers look at a number called the CP known as the “Cost Per Plane Passenger.” Driving the CP cost down will get the attention of the carrier in order to bring in new services.

“These are our 2020 numbers, it is now at four dollars and 20 cents,” Esterly said. “When I got here it was six dollars and 60 cents. We added a bunch of new services and drove the cost per plane passenger down and really got the attention of the airlines, while our competitors were driving the cost up. It’s a simple supply and demand. Compared to other international airports in Texas we are the lowest at four dollars and 20 cents and we will continue to do what we can to drive that cost down.”

The Valley International Airport seeks to focus on three segments of air travel, intra-Texas travel, domestic travel and international travel.

The Valley International Airport has brought in American Airlines to serve the Valley by air travel to DFW, Dallas/Fortworth International Airport. American Airlines provides its service five times a day seven days a week. American airlines now seasonally serves Chicago air, non-stop on Saturdays. There are now two options for a flight to Dallas through flying into DFW or by flying directly into Dallas with SouthWest Airlines. A flight to Houston as well can be achieved through SouthWest Airlines and United Airways landing at the William P. Hobby Airport and the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“Frontier came into the market a few years back,” Esterly said. “It has expanded to Las Vegas, Denver, as well as Orlando, Florida non-stop. Sun Country Airlines has been serving the Rio Grande Valley non-stop Minneapolis from October all the way to May with service up to five times a week in the peak of a season doing an amazing job.”

“A lot of people that are coming to the Rio Grande Valley are coming from Austin or Dallas and Houston. We get to serve, not just the city but different parts of cities. It’s all about convenience.”

Despite intra-state and domestic travel success, International travel from the Valley International Airport was considered a “snowball’s chance in August in South Padre Island Beach.”

“We didn’t throw it off the table and we continued to work on it and we now have the Viva Aerobus that is flying two times a week into Internationally Valley Airport,” he said. “At one point we were up six times a week because of border issues and now the border being open they are back to two times a week and you can connect there to Guadalajara, Cancun, to Mexico City as well as Monterrey. The Airbus is a A320 large aircraft jet, they have all the conveniences, VivaAero bus is the second largest carrier in Mexico.”

The Viva Aerobus has benefited the International Valley Airport, However, the expansion of the service has its obstacles.

“Unfortunately, the Mexican airspace has been downgraded by the FAA, Federal Aviation Administration, for some deficient issues and they decided to downgrade them from a category one to a category two,” Esterly said. “What that does is the current services were allowed to stay but they cannot have any new destinations. So, one of the things Viva Aerobus is looking at is augmenting Monterrey with different destinations in Mexico. They are unable to do that at this point but that’s their goal.”

Transportation is not only provided to passengers but for cargo as well, further expanding trade in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Not only do we provide transportation to passengers, people and businesses, we also provide a huge air cargo traffic at Valley International Airport,” Esterly said. “DHL and FedEx are both operating daily, a wide body service. FedEx is going to Memphis and DHL is going to Cincinnati but that is huge. There is an amazing amount of cargo going out of Harlingen and I am always amazed at what is going where. I have seen avocados overnight heading to China and you see a lot of auto parts going from Mexico, clearing customs, getting on an aircraft and going up to Detroit.”

With plans to expand the International Valley Airport, excitement for the airport’s future is felt, Esterly said.

“We are really excited about SouthWest and the unbelievable growth over the last few years. Unbelievable growth in March of this year, we haven’t seen numbers we have seen in March since 2008. It’s a great story.”

Editor’s Note: TV broadcaster Ron Whitlock and radio broadcaster Mario Muñoz assisted with this story from Harlingen, Texas.

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