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Southwest’s international expansion at Houston Hobby advances

Plans by Southwest Airlines to give Houston two international airports instead of just one took a big step forward when the city’s mayor endorsed the idea after the airline agreed to pay for the entire project.

For several months, Southwest has been engaged in a public and acrimonious debate over the plan, which is strenuously opposed by United Airlines. United has argued that opening up international service out of Hobby will create significant harm to its own operation at Houston Intercontinental Airport. IAH became a United hub when that carrier took over Continental.

Southwest wants to build a new five-gate facility at Hobby that would be the base for its planned operations to Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently, Hobby is strictly a domestic airport.

Although the deal is still subject to approval by the city council, Houston mayor Annise Parker last week announced her approval of Southwest’s plan for Hobby after the airline agreed that no public funds would be needed to build the $100 million facility.

“The proposal will be financed by Southwest Airlines at no cost to the City of Houston,” Southwest said. “No passenger facility charges (i.e., head taxes assessed by airports) are required in the agreement, no debt will be issued by the City of Houston, and no general revenue funds will be used as part of this agreement.”

Barring any delays, Southwest said, the international facility at HOU could be up and running by 2015. The airline has created a web site in support of its plan at freehobbyairport.com.

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