Pilot speaks out about Southwest's plans for international flights at Hobby

Feedback from public being solicited on heated issue

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HOUSTON - Public meetings are being held while the city is considering adding an extra terminal that would add international service to Hobby Airport. Southwest Airlines and United Airlines are at odds on the plan.

The city is soliciting feedback from the community during a series of public meetings. The first meeting was held Wednesday night.

A United Airlines pilot spoke about the effects the plan it would have on Bush Intercontinental Airport.

"I think we'll see a negative effect here at IAH with reduced services and longer lines and passengers will suffer in my opinion due to less connected flights. United by our business motto will have to reduce flights," said Marco Johnson, a United Airlines pilot.

Earlier this year, Southwest Airlines released plans to fly internationally out of Hobby.

According to Southwest Airlines, allowing them to fly out of the country from Hobby will add up to 10,000 jobs to Houston's economy.

Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said the expansion would mean about 25 international flights daily from five gates to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.

"It's more flights, lower fares. It makes flying more affordable for more people, which leads to more jobs," said Kelly.

United Airlines said it opposed the plan and claimed the expansion would cost Houston 3,700 jobs if services or flights are cut at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

"The claims of harm are based on speculative, self-serving and fear-mongering," Kelly said. "It's not the city's role to protect a competitor. Even if that competitor has to lower fares to compete, that is not a legal or practical or economic basis on which to not engage with Southwest Airlines to negotiate a lease."

United Airlines claims that allowing international flights out of Hobby would diminish Houston's ability to compete with other large cities, like Dallas and Atlanta.

"In the event that we split the international hub, we expect to see these passengers pilled away, the flights become unprofitable or more unprofitable," said John Gebo, vice president of United Airlines. "We would, therefore, have to do what any business would do."

The city doesn't have the final say. The federal government has to give its approval first.

If approved, Southwest would not begin international service before 2015.

The next public meeting will be held on Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Marriott Houston South at Hobby Airport, 9100 Gulf Freeway.

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