It’s departure time for the Brownsville airport director, who landed a job in Boston

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Bryant Walker, director of aviation for the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport since May 2016, is stepping down to take a job with the Federal Aviation Administration in Boston.

He said the opportunity was too good to pass up and that he’s been trying to break into the FAA nearly his entire career. Walker will serve as FAA director of Office of Airports, responsible for a six-state region.

He told the Brownsville Herald that he planned to submit his three-week notice to city officials late Friday and that his last official day on the job at the airport is Aug. 25.

Walker, who was the security manager for Sacramento International Airport in California before coming to Brownsville, said he had a list of goals upon arriving here in 2016 and that he believes he’s fulfilled those goals.

“I had a mission to build a (new) terminal,” Walker said. “That’s what the mayor had given me, and I completed that. Finding the funding, getting it designed and built. That was a pretty big lift, so I was happy that I got that done.”

Another big one was making the airport self sustaining rather than dependent on city subsidies, he said.

“Airports, they’re supposed to be self sufficient,” Walker said. “We managed to get self sufficient last November. It’s not even been a year. It took a while to get there, but we made it.”

Another top item on his to-do list was to bring more air service to Brownsville in addition to American Airlines/American Eagle and United Airlines/United Express.

On May 17, Houston-based Avelo Airlines began direct, nonstop flights to Burbank, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., aboard 737-700 and -800 series aircraft. Based on the success of those routes, Avelo announced in June that it will direct, nonstop service to Las Vegas, Nev., beginning Sept. 8.

“Avelo has been doing amazingly well,” Walker said.

Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport Director of Aviation Bryant Walker stands on the airport tarmac Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, as American Airlines arrives in Brownsville and approaches the jet bridge at gate 3. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

None of it would have happened without his team, including former special projects manager Francisco Partida, instrumental in negotiations with Avelo and other airlines; accountant Stephen Muse, who helped guide the airport to self sufficiency; and former assistant director of aviation Shawn Schroeder, who played a key role in seeing through completion of the new terminal building, which opened in January 2021, Walker said.

As for where things go from here for the airport, he said his successor will have a couple of items to address sooner rather than later, one being expansion of the new terminal — already.

“We literally have doubled our enplanements since March,” Walker said. “We processed more than 20,000 passengers in the month of July. We’ve never even come close to 20,000 passengers. We’ve eclipsed the best month we’ve ever had. We might be the fastest growing airport by passenger count in the country. This isn’t a COVID recovery. It’s none of that. It’s an increase of service, so from that standpoint we’re doing really good.”

The new routes are more popular and being added faster than anyone expected, he said, adding that “we’ve beat every forecast that was projected and that necessitates this type of expansion.”

Specifically, the terminal will be lengthened. Walker said he’s already started a task order with the airport’s engineers for the gate area expansion. The up-front engineering for the project is already in place, which will lessen the amount of time it takes to get to actual construction, he said.

Another future priority has to do with governance, Walker said

“We’re looking at giving more decision to our airport advisory board, so that it’s more administrative and less advisory,” he said.

Also, the airport still needs more routes and is well positioned to attract them, in Walker’s opinion.

“We’re still missing direct service to the Midwest, and we’re missing direct service to the Northeast,” he said. “And we’re also missing service to Mexico. We definitely should have service to Mexico.”

A decade ago, under the previous airport administration, AeroMexico offered service between Brownsville and Monterrey, Mexico, for two years before pulling out, citing insufficient ticket sales.

Walker added that he’s leaving on positive terms with city leadership and that he’s “made great friends here.”

“Politically, I believe I get along with all of the elected officials,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one that I don’t.”

Walker acknowledged he’s leaving behind a Brownsville airport much changed from the one he took over more than seven years ago.

“It’s unrecognizable,” he said. “Literally, people get off of an airplane, and they’re, like, I’m in the wrong city. They tell our security guards they’re in the wrong place. We have to reassure them, no, this is really Brownsville.”

And while Walker admitted he won’t miss Rio Grande Valley summers too much, he said he will miss the winters considering what awaits him in New England, and he’ll miss the people.

“I’m going to miss being down here,” Walker said. “I don’t want to get sentimental, but it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of growth, personally. But it’s just time to do other things.”