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HOUSTON — In an overwhelming vote of 16-1, Mayor Annise Parker and Houston City Council today approved Southwest Airlines' plans for international service at Hobby Airport. The expansion will mean flights to Latin America from Hobby by 2015, if the federal government approves a new customs facility necessary to screen international passengers.
“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.”
Construction is planned for the spring of 2013. In the interim, the City will work closely with SWA and the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain the necessary federal approvals as well as a commitment for an adequate number of customs and border patrol agents at both of our airports.
Last week, Mayor Parker unveiled the proposed agreement under which Southwest Airlines (SWA) will cover all costs related to the $100 million expansion. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) requires SWA 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.
In return for its investment, SWA 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, but unlike SWA, the other airlines will pay rent.
An independent study commissioned by the Houston Airport System 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.
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. SWA intends to utilize new 737 aircraft that are more efficient and quieter than older models, thus eliminating impact on the surrounding neighborhood.