(Houston, TX — Gail Delaughter, KUHF) The nation's fourth-largest city will have a second international airport, now that the city council has approved plans for Southwest Airlines' new terminal at Hobby Airport. The 16-1 vote gives the discount carrier the go-ahead to build five new gates and a customs facility at Hobby to accommodate flight to Mexico and the Carribean. Southwest hopes to begin those flights in 2015.
The vote came despite the protests of United Airlines, the main tenant at Houston's larger hub airport, Bush Intercontinental. As part of a massive PR campaign against the plan, United presented city officials with a study saying a split international gateway would cost the local economy about $300 million. The carrier says it would also be forced to cut over 1,000 jobs, reduce flights, and drop its plans for a new $700 million terminal at Bush. That's in contrast to a study from the Houston Airport System which says international service at Hobby would translate into a $1.6 billion economic gain as well as cheaper flights for travelers.
Hobby is the smaller of Houston's two commercial airports, handling just under 10 million passengers in 2011. Bush Intercontinental handled about 40 million.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker called the vote a big win for Houston and the traveling public. "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 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."
Employees and executives packed city council chambers to witness the vote, with supporters from Southwest dressed in yellow t-shirts and United's contingent in blue.