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Rice University study on Hobby Airport international flights released

Thursday, May 03, 2012

There are new developments in the high stakes tug of war over international travel in Houston as we're now getting a new look at a proposed expansion at Hobby Airport.

The big question is would two international airports be good for Houston? Well, that all depends on who you ask.

The city's self-commissioned study leaned toward Southwest Airlines, saying it would create jobs and benefit the community. But United Airlines says it has a much different picture with its study. Now members of the community are beginning to figure out which side they should take.

Members of the Texas Organizing Project fanned out across neighborhoods surrounding Hobby Airport, trying to gauge what long-time homeowners felt about a possible Southwest expansion.

"I guess it just really depends on how big they're going to expand it," said Jared Hurt, a Hobby area resident.

But the real battle is being fought downtown. Weeks after a city-backed study said a Southwest expansion at Hobby would be beneficial, United Airlines released its own study, with the picture not so rosy.

"It's seems hard to imagine that 18,000 jobs, 10,000 jobs, can be created from 23 new flights out of five gates at Hobby Airport. It just simply defied logic," said William Swelbar, author of the United study.

According to the city commissioned study, Southwest expansion could create 10,000 jobs; the United study says the city would lose 3,700 jobs. While one study says a second international airport would create additional demand, United says it will only split up existing hub traffic.

"So the key here is about the splitting, and not about the competition," said United Airlines Sr. VP John Gebow.

United executives will take their findings to City Hall next week, trying to win over council members. But among members of the public, many we talked to tend to favor Southwest.

"I think it's a good thing, yes," said Anna Hildebrandt, another Hobby area resident.

Residents around the commuter airport will make their feelings known at a meeting at Ripley House this weekend.

City Council members will be the ones voting on the proposal as soon as later this month.

On Wednesday night, the Greater Houston Partnership issued it's opinion of the proposal to facilitate international flights out of Hobby. GHP Chairman Tony Chase issued this statement which read, "This is a critically important issue for Houston. We want two vibrant airports and the benefits that go along with it: more jobs, more travelers, and a competitive advantage for our city."

You can read the full copy of the United study here.

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Tags:
hobby airport, bush intercontinental airport, united airlines, southwest airlines, rice university, local, miya shay
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