This morning, Houston City Council members voted to approve the expansion of William P. Hobby Airport and officially make it Houston’s second international airport.
Despite the opposition from United Airlines, which operates out of Houston Intercontinental Airport, City Council, voted 16-1 to approve the expansion with the backing of Houston Mayor Annise Parker. The only council member to vote against the expansion, Councilman Jerry Davis, happens to include Houston Intercontinental Airport and a significant number of United Airlines employees in his district. Despite Councilman Davis’ disappointment, most seem very happy and enthusiastic about the outcome.
“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 Bush 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.”
Under the terms of the agreement between the City of Houston and Southwest Airlines, five new gates will be constructed, as well as a federal inspections station that will include customs facilities for screening the international passengers. The total cost of the project, $100 million to be exact, was to be funded by adding a $1.50 fee to each passenger ticket operating out of Hobby Airport, but later changed to Southwest Airlines paying for the whole project to gain some support. The details are that Southwest Airlines will get the full use of four out of the five gates, rent/fee free, while the fifth gate will be available for other airlines to rent from the city for their own international flying. Additionally, Southwest Airlines will receive up to $3.9 million a year based upon passenger traffic growth in the future. However, once the construction is complete, the City of Houston will own those gates 100% debt free.
This will be the first time that Southwest Airlines will have international destinations and they hope to continue the expansion from there. Construction is set to begin in 2013 and be completed two years later in 2015. While William P. Hobby becoming an international airport is a done deal, Southwest Airlines still has to gain approval from the US Department of Justice to operate those flights, but Southwest doesn’t believe it should be too difficult.
The Memorandum of Agreement between the City of Houston and Southwest Airlines and be found here.
The Review of William P. Hobby International Airport can be found here. Links courtesy of the Houston Airport System
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