Friday, April 06, 2012

Editorial: Getting it right in United vs. Southwest

A high-stakes airline struggle is being waged for primacy in the skies looking southward from Houston.

The competitors - it would be a reach to call them combatants - are 
Chicago-based United Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. The prize is access to the burgeoning international business and tourism destinations south of Houston, including Mexico, Central America, some of South America and points across the Caribbean.

United remains king of the hill, thanks to its big footprint at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. It controls most of this traffic and would like to keep things that way here at its largest hub.

Hobby-based Southwest wants a piece of the international market and has the resources to claim it, via its recent acquisition of Atlanta-based AirTran, which has existing routes across the Caribbean and into Mexico.

Southwest says it is willing to pay $100 million to expand its operations at Hobby to include five more gates for the international routes it is planning for Houston. Its representatives say the expansion would create 10,000 more jobs here while injecting $1.6 billion annually into the local economy.

United officials and an MIT consultant counter that Southwest's figures are wrong - vastly overstated on both the jobs and economic impact counts. Its representatives argue that granting Southwest approval to fly internationally from Hobby would directly harm George Bush Intercontinental Airport - and by extension, the entire local economy - by duplicating air service to markets that already are well served.

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