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City Leaders Approve International Flights
at Hobby Airport

May 31, 2012

© Houston Airport System
The City Council chamber was filled to capacity when the vote was taken on May 30, 2012.
In an overwhelming vote of 16-1, Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker and City Council Members approved Southwest Airlines' plans for international service at William P. Hobby Airport (HOU).

“This is a big win for Houston and the traveling public,” said Mayor Parker. “Competition will lead to jobs, lower fares and a positive economic impact for the city. My goal is a strong international presence at Hobby and a continued strong international presence at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. We will also continue our commitment to ensuring there is adequate customs and immigration staffing at Bush and at Hobby when international service begins there in 2015.”

The expansion will mean flights to Latin America from Hobby Airport by 2015, if the federal government approves a new customs facility necessary to screen international passengers.

Construction is planned for the spring of 2013.  In the interim, the City will work closely with Southwest Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to obtain the necessary federal approvals.

Under the agreement reached by city leaders and airline officials, Southwest Airlines will cover all costs related to the $100 million expansion.

The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) requires Southwest Airlines to design and build the five new gates and customs facility to the city’s specifications. When finished, the city will own the improvements debt free.

“It’s all about lowering fares and making travel more affordable,” says Southwest Airlines’ CEO Gary Kelly. “This is about competition and increasing the amount of traffic we have traveling south of the border.” 

In return for its investment, Southwest Airlines will have preferential scheduling rights and pay no rent for its use of four of the five new international gates, and will also pay no rent for its use of the customs facility.

The fifth additional gate and the customs facility will be available for use by all other airlines at Hobby Airport. An independent study commissioned by Houston Airports indicates that increased competition will lower fares that entice additional passengers to travel through Hobby.

Many of these additional travelers will be visitors to Houston and this will drive job growth in Houston’s tourism, hotel, retail and restaurant sectors. The overall impact is job creation and an annual net positive economic impact for the greater Houston metropolitan area.

“This is going to be advantageous for the City of Houston and that’s what makes me proud,” says Houston aviation director Mario Diaz. “This is the right thing for the city at the right time and I believe City Council Members made the right decision.”

The addition of international service at Hobby will mean approximately 20 more departures daily, which is still far below the historical record-setting activity levels of 1997.  Southwest Airlines intends to utilize new 737 aircraft that are more efficient and quieter than older models, thus eliminating impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
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