On the History of a Name
On Dec. 8 1941, Capt. John August Earl Bergstrom, 34, was serving as an administrative officer with the 19th Bombardment Group, stationed at Clark Field, the Philippines. In tandem with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese air attacks were carried out against Clark field and other military areas in the Philippines.
Capt. Bergstrom was killed during the Dec. 8 bombing at Clark Field. A graduate of Texas A&M University, Capt. Bergstrom was the first native Austinite to be killed in action during World War II. At the urging of his former employer, the Austin National Bank, Lyndon B. Johnson, who at the time was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’s 10th District, prevailed upon the U.S. Army Air Force to rename a base recently opened in Austin after its fallen son.
On March 3, 1943, the Del Valle Airfield was officially renamed the Bergstrom Army Airfield. When the Air Force split from the Army to become its own military branch in 1948, the base was renamed Bergstrom Air Force base. It would have this name until it was decommissioned in the early 1990s, with all military aviation ceasing in 1995, after more than 50 years of faithful service.
ABIA stands on the foundations of the base named after Capt. Bergstrom some 70 years ago. Opening in 1999, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport carries on the legacy of Bergstrom Air Force Base.
Adventurer Cal Rodgers started it all by landing "Vin Fiz," a Wright Brothers biplane, in 1911 while undertaking a transcontinental flight. He landed in a Ridgetop subdivision field in the vicinity of 51st and Duval.
In 1917, U.S. Army DeHaviland biplanes practiced take-offs and landings at Penn Field, a small dirt strip south of St. Edward's University, Austin's first landing field, named for the first pilot from Central Texas to lose his life in WWI aerial combat.
In the late 1920s, Austin City Council requested that Army Corps at Kelly Field in San Antonio send a pilot over Austin to identify a suitable site for a municipal airport. Claire Chennault, who later became famous with the World War II “Flying Tigers,” recommended the Matthews farm tract four miles NE of downtown Austin. This became Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, owned by the City of Austin and honoring a City Council Member who died while in service. Officially dedicated on October 14, 1930, the main terminal building was dedicated on May 27, 1961, then expanded in 1983. The east terminal was dedicated in April 1990. The Federal Inspection Station, located near the terminal, was completed in 1995.
Like many older airports, Mueller was on the outskirts of town in1930. Austin’s population grew rapidly, becoming a high tech hotspot, and regularly featured in national magazines as a desirable place to live, work, and do business. Flights into the city increased substantially, as more businesses sprang up, both import and export cargo soared. Mueller sat landlocked on 711 acres in the middle of Austin, with urban growth on all sides.
Eight miles from the Capitol was Bergstrom Air Force Base, slated for closure in 1990 by order of Congress. This turned out to be an opportunity for the Capital of Texas to meet air travel needs well into the future.
At the time, Bergstrom Air Force Base was still a fully operational military facility. But when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission finally decided to decommission the base, the land was returned to the City of Austin. It was evident it would be ideal for a new airport. In May 1999, Robert Mueller Municipal Airport was closed to commercial passenger traffic and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport opened to the public on May 23, 1999. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the first to be built under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was officially off the ground. What might have been an economic blow, not to mention the ongoing problem of caring for an abandoned military facility, had been deftly averted. As Mayor Kirk Watson said at the time, "Austin turned lemons into lemonade."
Adjacent to the city, the site was large enough to meet growing needs, runways and other facilities already existed and the surrounding area was sparsely populated. COA officials pledged that no tax dollars would be used to build Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Even though the City of Austin owns the facility, the airport is not supported by the City’s general fund. The people and businesses that use the airport pay the entire ongoing budget. Any revenue generated from the airport goes back into its operations, covering its operating expenses.
ABIA has been named one of the best airports in the world according to Airport Service Quality Awards. Among its numerous awards, 2011 marked the fifth consecutive year to earn a ranking in the top five airports in North America and the world for excellence in customer service.