Talks continue over international flights at Hobby Airport

May 14, 2012 3:25:19 PM PDT
In the debate over whether Houston should be home to not one, but two international airports. City leaders are expected to vote on a proposed expansion at Hobby Airport in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Southwest and United Airlines are each making their cases to the community.

Neither airport is technically located inside the East End, but Hobby Airport is just outside the district. That has people who live and work in Houston's East End very interested in the possibility of international flights in and out of Hobby Airport.

In Houston's East End, signs of revitalization are hard to miss. Dotted among old buildings are new condos, new businesses and a new soccer stadium. And if Southwest Airlines begins flying to Latin America out of Hobby Airport, there's the possibility of new jobs, and some hope, cheaper airfare.

"I do fly periodically to Central America and in the summer, I'm planning to get to Brazil so I'm looking for improvements in airfares," business owner Robert Ford said.

So Monday, the East End Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting with representatives from Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.

"That creates jobs, not just direct jobs right there for the airline," said Scott Wells of Southwest Airlines.

And United also presented its case against international service out of Hobby Airport.

"Southwest is relying in HAS' study that they had released," said Michelle Baden with United Airlines. "We know that study is fundamentally flawed."

The East End is bordered by Clinton Drive to the north, the Loop on the west, Telephone Road and I-45 on the south, and the Beltway on the west. According to the Greater East End Management District, Hobby Airport falls just outside the boundaries on the other side of Interstate 45.

"I think because it's in our backyard, they want to know will it create more jobs? Will they hire East End residents?" said Frances Casteda Diess with the East End Chamber of Commerce.

The East End Chamber of Commerce has not yet decided whether it supports international flights out of Hobby. But the 50 or so residents and business owners who listed to the debate on Monday were ready to listen for opportunities to help a growing part of town grow even more.

"I think competition's good for everybody, so this will help," East End resident Margie Griggs said.

The city could only reject a proposal for Hobby to have those international flights if the airport lacks the capacity to accommodate the flights, or if there were to be noise, environmental concerns or a threat to public safety. But the city attorney also says because of contracts between the city and the FAA, the city is legally obligated to accommodate any reasonable request from Southwest to expand service.

The final public meeting will be held Tuesday, May 15 from 6pm to 8pm at the Marriott Houston South at Hobby Airport, 9100 Gulf Freeway, Houston, Texas 77017.

Houston City Council is expected to make a decision whether to allow international flights out of Hobby next month.


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