Houston Airport System supports idea to allow Hobby Airport to accept international flights


We've been following this tug-of-war since last month. Southwest Airlines wants to make Hobby Airport an international hub for flights to Mexico, the Caribbean and other Latin American destinations, but United Airlines says it would be a bad idea for the city.

In March, United sent a letter to the city critical of the plan, saying it could weaken the economy and that Bush Intercontinental Airport was specifically built to be Houston's international gateway.

Now, the Houston Airport System has released the results of a new study on the idea and they say it could mean thousands of jobs and over a billion dollars in revenue.

The director of aviation services in Houston, Mario Diaz, is recommending the city of Houston work with Southwest Airlines to expand international flights out of Hobby Airport.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Diaz said the expansion will not cost taxpayers anything and that it will be paid for by Southwest Airlines. He also says the move would create 10,000 jobs and generate $1.6 billion a year.

Diaz says the study analyzed other options, like having Southwest move to Bush, or split operations between Bush and Hobby. He says there are not enough gates at Bush for Southwest to fly out of for both domestic and international flights. According to Diaz, splitting operations would put Southwest at a disadvantage because it would make connecting flights inconvenient for passengers. Diaz says the study isn't favoring on airline over another.

"The city must not be in the role, and cannot be in the role, of being deal regulators of commerce. What we can do is what we do everyday and that is to provide facilities for airlines," he said.

But Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan cautions the city not to move too quickly and consider the impact from a second customs operation to vendors at both airports. He is concerned stretching the resources may mean the city may not be able to live up to promises already made at Bush.

"It's my opinion that we should really slow down, stop and look at this from a global perspective," Sullivan said. "As a city ourselves, we've invested hundreds of millions of dollars at Bush Intercontinental Airport to serve a number of international carriers who are coming here now because of promises we made."

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said in a statement:

    "I am carefully considering Southwest's proposal and the recommendation of the city's aviation director and will take all views into account. With City Council involvement, we will convene meetings with and seek input from stakeholders, including airlines, members of the business community, Houston residents, organized labor and other interested persons. My decision, which I intend to reach by the end of April, will be based on what is best for the city and the flying public, not what may or may not be best for any one specific airline."

The mayor has said she will take 30 days to consider the matter. It could be put to a vote next month.

United Airlines also released a statement, which read:

    "The assumptions supporting the analysis in the Airport System's reports are fundamentally flawed and lead to conclusions that fly in the face of reality. Our ongoing analysis using realistic assumptions and publicly available industry data shows that the proposal will significantly harm Bush Intercontinental, one of the region's leading economic engines, which brings jobs and business development to Houston. The fact that Southwest has been using these reports to promote its proposal well before today's release should raise serious questions about the reports' purpose and objectivity.

    "We hope the mayor and council will reserve judgment until they can review better data."

You can read more about the efforts at Hobby here.

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