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Southwest moves ahead with Houston airport expansion

By control on June 1, 2012

The Houston City Council has approved Southwest Airlines' request for expansion at Houston Hobby International Airport, paving the way for a five-gate, $100 million expansion that will lead to Southwest routes into Latin America. After Houston Mayor Annise Parker voiced her support for the plan last week, the city council approved the proposal by a vote of 16-0.

The next step in the process is for the federal government to approve a necessary Customs facility. If that approval is granted, construction will begin next spring, with a completion date of 2015. Southwest is planning to fly to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America from the airport.

Southwest will cover all costs associated with the project, which will be owned by the City of Houston once complete, in return for some a few perks, according to a press release. The carrier will receive preferential scheduling rights and will be able to use, rent-free, four gates of the new international wing. Southwest will also have free use of the new Customs facility.

"There is still much work to do, but I believe our proposal shows that we are committed to bringing international service to Hobby, without the city taking on additional debt," the carrier's CEO, Gary Kelly, said in a statement when the mayor announced her support for the project.

According to a press release, the expansion will generate 20 additional daily departures from the airport.

The proposed expansion is just the latest bit of news for Southwest, which formally integrated AirTran into its company on May 2. But the carrier has had an underwhelming start to 2012. First-quarter results showed a net loss for the carrier and a decline in operating income, which was blamed mostly on an increase in fuel costs. Freight results for the first quarter showed a 19-percent, year-over-year, increase in operating revenue.

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