Well, congrats to all those involved, especially Council Member James Rodriguez, for leading on this particular issue. Although the vast majority of Houstonians agree that a 2nd international airport would be good for Houston, there is still some strong opposition in the form of United lobbyists and future PAC money. Although the Council still has to approve the deal, this is a huge step forward, for sure.
So, what was agreed upon? It was agreed that Southwest Airlines would be paying for the international expansion.
Mayor Annise Parker today announced her support for international service at Hobby Airport and released details of a 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.
“This will be financed with no City debt and no Passenger Facility Charges (PFC),” said Mayor Parker. “SWA will bear all the risk. “They will also have to abide by our minority and small business contracting requirements and Hire Houston First policy. That helps guarantee our local workers get a chance at the construction jobs. From the beginning, I have said that my decision would be based not on what is best for one or another airline, but rather on what is best for the City, the local business community and the traveling public. There is no question we have done that.”
But like I said, there is still more to come–more lobbying and more debate. If you support the expansion, then call your Council Member.
The proposed MOA is subject to approval by Houston City Council and SWA management. City Council consideration is expected May 30, 2012. Construction is planned for the spring of 2013. In the interim, the City will work closely with SWA and Washington 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.
“Again, this is not about one airline over another,” said Mayor Parker. “My goal is to ensure the millions of international travelers who pass through Houston receive adequate customs services no matter which airport they use.”
Sounds like a good deal to me. Let’s move forward.