March 21st, 2012

Hobby as an International Airport, Part 2

In the last post, we looked at timing and the motives behind the drive by Southwest Airlines to build an international terminal at Houston’s Hobby Airport. Let’s step back and look at what an expansion at Hobby would do.

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The single terminal that makes Hobby so attractive to flyers who do not want to deal with the expanse that is Intercontinental, would, with an international expansion, suddenly become two terminals and who knows where that second terminal would be located. It could be on the south side of the airport where space is a bit more plentiful. With expansion comes complexity and with complexity comes a less desirable airport from the public’s perspective. What makes Hobby stress relieving for a lot of travelers is the feel of complete ease in access.

Then there are the flights. I would like to see a report from the Houston Airport System on how much more traffic Hobby can handle and how those numbers compare to what is possible at Intercontinental. I do not doubt that Hobby would have no problems taking more flights but how many more? What happens when Hobby reaches that limit? Hitting a traffic ceiling means competition and expansion from other low cost carriers such as Virgin America, JetBlue, and Republic is even less likely.

I encourage the HAS to explore the options and make their goals and vision for the future of Houston travel crystal clear. The situation has been allowed to grow out of control and is now to the point where it may not be easy to recover from. Had the original vision to make IAH the one airport for the city been followed, we would not be facing this conundrum. I am for keeping the focus on IAH and focusing on making it an easier airport to reach and an easier airport for other airlines to access. I am sure there will be plenty of responses to this that Hobby is just easier to get to and such a breeze for parking and to that, I say, yeah, but for how much longer? When there is a significant increase in flights, how easy will parking be? The controversy from a few years ago when the Houston Airport System released its long term plan for IAH should make us question the viability of expansion at a more urban airport (Hobby).

Focusing on IAH may also encourage the FAA to optimize traffic into the airport and remove, at least partially, one of the excuses Southwest used to move to Hobby (and the same excuse it uses for other airports), delays. This brings us full circle and begs the question, does Houston need two international airports? I would rather have one airport with a good train connection to downtown (hint, hint Metro), than two airports with no decent public transit connections. What about the immigration system at IAH that the airport system brags so much about? Why are we not encouraging traffic through there and putting this great system to work? And if we are going to go with two airports, why not explore the option of resurrecting Ellington Field from the ashes? With more room for expansion Ellington seems like a wise choice.

Houstonians should be for smart growth of our airports. To me, that means not willy-nilly building international terminals at urban airports when we have a much touted international airport 28 miles to the north. We need the city to examine the issue with blinders on. Focus not on what is good for either airline but what serves the city and its citizens. Heck, provide us with a few studies about both airports, the effects, and issues we could encounter and let us vote.

— Stephan

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