‘A merger of aviation and aerospace’ | Director of Houston Airports details long-term strategy during 2023 State of the Airports

Director Mario Diaz spotlights future for city’s airports and Houston Spaceport while celebrating the 1,200 Houston Airports employees who are transforming Houston Airports into an award-winning airport system. 

October 15, 2023

HOUSTON – Houston Airports has significantly improved the passenger experience, continues to expand its facilities and is supporting a giant leap in commercial aerospace. According to Mario Diaz, Director of Aviation for Houston Airports, a thoughtful strategy rooted in innovation and guided by a shift in the organization’s culture serves as a long-term flight path to success.

Diaz outlined his strategy, priorities and key measures for success during his keynote address during the Greater Houston Partnership's 2023 State of the Airports. Diaz shared the outlook for the region's airports before a sold-out audience of roughly 600 people. 

Diaz was hired as the Director of the City of Houston Aviation Department in 2010 by former Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “I was asked to take our airports to the next level,” said Diaz, “to put ‘international’ in every thought associated with our city. Easy, right?!” 

Over the last 13 years, and with support from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston Airports has expanded the city’s global reach by increasing partnerships with foreign flag carriers from 11 to 18. In a pivotal expansion project with Southwest Airlines, international air service returned to William P. Hobby Airport in 2015. Today, Houston Airports connects passengers to nearly 200 non-stop destinations and is poised to welcome 60 million passengers this year, which meets the passenger record set in 2019.

Diaz and his leadership team recognized early on that in order to connect more of the world to Houston, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport would need to offer more than safe and clean facilities. Diaz explained that he crafted a strategy that supports a vision to transform the Houston Airports into a 5-Star global air service gateway where the magic of flight is celebrated. The strategy focuses on connecting the people, businesses, cultures and economies of the world to Houston, and is guided by four values that drive the organization’s culture: 

  • Make our passengers happy.  
  • Build platforms for future success 
  • Act responsibly to achieve social, environmental and economic sustainability.  
  • Invest in our partnerships and employees. 

Over the last 13 years, Diaz has empowered Houston Airports to address drainage, infrastructure and maintenance challenges while also intentionally adding amenities and comforts for service animals, passengers who require assistance in restrooms, private mother’s rooms for families, playgrounds and designated parking for families. 

Diaz publicly attributed the success of his strategy to the 1,200 Houston Airports employees who are committed to transforming Houston Airports into a dynamic organization that supports the professional career growth of its workforce. 

Change is coming | Update on the construction of a new international terminal at Bush Airport (IAH)

Diaz gave an overview of the $1.43 billion IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, the largest capital improvement project in the history of the airport system. Modern seating and power outlets were just installed and are now available to passengers throughout all 12 existing IAH Terminal D gates. New tile flooring, energy-efficient lighting and sleek gate counters are also bringing new life to Terminal D. A new concourse, Terminal D-West, will expand the number of gates available and will soon accommodate 10 narrow-body aircraft or 6 wide-body planes simultaneously. 

A Houston-inspired Feature Wall, designed to dazzle and calm passengers, has the first section installed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. A combination of copper ceiling and calming LED lighting will welcome international travelers to the currently under-construction Terminal D West Pier in less than a year.  

“And good news,” said Diaz, “all major construction at terminal d will wrap up before the end of this year. In November we will fully complete the re-life and refresh of Terminal D. Then, before years end, we will pass the baton to our airline partners so they can get to work fitting out their spaces and adding the world-class amenities before we open the additional gates to passengers in the first months of 2024.” 

Construction on a new International Central Processor is moving forward. The facility will house 66 self-service check-in kiosks, 24 self-service bag drops, 17 lanes for TSA security and baggage claim. Diaz confirmed the ICP will be substantially completed in late 2024. 

‘Big strides come from bold strategy’ | Breaking records and making history 

  • This summer, Bush and Hobby airports welcomed a record-shattering 17.9 million passengers.
  • Eight of the top 10 single busiest travel days, in the history of Houston, have happened so far this year.
  • Houston is on course to welcome 60 million passengers this year. That meets the record set in 2019. 

“But we still have about six weeks to exceed those predictions,” said Diaz, “Is anyone up for a last-minute flightwith one our newest airline partners: Volaris El Salvador? 

  • Hobby Airports continues to be the first and only 5-Star Skytrax airport in North America
  • Passengers voted Hobby Airport the ‘Most Enjoyable Airport in North America’
  • Bush Airport maintains its 4-Star Skytrax streak for six years 
  • Houston Airports named 2023 Best Airport Art Program in the World 

“No one does art like Houston,” proclaimed Diaz as he praised the local professional artists who work with Houston Airports to provide a unique and memorable experience that includes visual and performing arts. 

With one of the biggest public art collections in the aviation industry, Houston Airports boasts more than 350 pieces valued at $28 million. The collection is expected to appreciate in value with the installation of 12 artworks commissioned for the new international terminal.

“Today, we offer so much more than we did in 2010,” said Diaz. “And that is because we have chosen to commit to the promise to deliver a 5-star airport experience that showcases world-class service, modern facilities and uniquely ‘Houston-friendly’ hospitality first time, every time.”  

Space City is taking giant leaps to merge aviation and aviation 

Diaz explained that he envisions a future for Houston Airports that includes electric aircraft, or EVtols. “In the future, we’re going to board EVtols that fly to airports or popular destinations like the Texas Medical Center, The Woodlands or The Galleria. Think about that the next time you’re sitting in Houston traffic.” 

Diaz explained that some EVtols will run off hydrogen-powered fuels and Houston’s airports will serve as fill stations with a complete spectrum of fuels, like compressed natural gas or hydrogen. “Our flight path for long-term success, requires us to include resiliency in our strategy.” Diaz shared that Houston Airports must be good stewards of the world it seeks to connect. It’s why Houston Airports is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Solar panel arrays will power Bush, Hobby and Ellington airports, with the state’s grid only serving as a backup.  A more sustainable airport system that supports future generations. 

Aviation and aerospace are merging, according to Diaz. “In the future, you won’t know if you’re catching a ride on an airplane or a hypersonic jet. Managing a terminal in the future will include the possibility that your assignment may be a spaceport in space.” 

All three anchor tenants at the Houston Spaceport – Axiom Space, Collins Aerospace and Intuitive Machines - are building the foundation for man to live in space. Because of Diaz’s foresight and strategy to invest in people, partnerships between Houston Airports and Texas Southern University, San Jacinto College and Sterling Early College High School are developing the minds of the next generation of pilots and astronauts. Diaz closed his annual address on a hopeful note, “and because of our strategy, Houston Airports will bridge the connection between our world and our solar system. On our flight path together, we are destined to reach uncharted heights.”