Mayor, Southwest Airlines agree on Hobby Airport expansion

May 23, 2012 5:08:06 PM PDT
After months of debate over job losses, job creation, increased competion and increased confusion, Mayor Annise Parker says Hobby Airport will expand to allow for international flights.

Surrounded by Southwest employees and the airline's CEO, Mayor Parker officially announced that she is ready for the Hobby expansion plans to take off.

"Southwest Airlines has agreed to pay for all off the expenses associated with building this expansion," she said.

Southwest Airlines now says it will pay for the $100 million expansion project that, when finished, will result in five new international gates at Hobby. Southwest would control four of them.

CEO Gary Kelly made big promises.

"We will bring lower fares. We will bring more competition. It will be more jobs and we're very, very excited about all of those opportunities," he said.

United Airlines, which has been long against the expansion, on Wednesday released a statement, saying in part, "Splitting the city's international air service will harm the city's competitive advantage and cost jobs."

Mayor Parker defended the job growth scenario with Southwest's expansion, but would not say exactly how many will be created.

"I'm not going to get into discussion of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Is it 10,000 jobs, is it 5,000 jobs? Jobs are good for Houston," Parker said.

It will be awhile before we know if this plan will actually create jobs at all.

First, it needs City Council approval, which is scheduled for a vote next week.

Passengers we talked to say they hope it will lower fares.

"I would say more convenient, hopefully more cost effective, if they can balance out the cost versus other airlines cost," Southwest passenger Cindia Strauss said.

The big vote is scheduled for next week, but it could face the standard one-week delay. The proposal needs nine yes votes. On Wednesday, seven council members and Mayor Parker attended the conference, so that makes eight. But Mayor Parker says she's confident she has the votes. We'll see.

Before the announcement of this morning's news conference, United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek, in an ABC13 exclusive interview, said United would lose 1,300 jobs if the Southwest expansion at Hobby happens.

United said earlier this month it might cancel $700 million in improvements to Terminal B at IAH and it might drop some service from Houston.


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