Published Dec 10, 2019 by A.J. Mistretta
The Houston Airport System logged record passenger traffic in 2018 and celebrated the 50th anniversary of Bush Intercontinental Airport this year. Meanwhile work has begun on the new Mickey Leland International Terminal that’s expected to open at Bush in 2022.
Houston Airport System Executive Director Mario Diaz gave an update on the system’s three airports and discussed the future of aviation here in Houston and around the world in his 2019 State of the Airports address this week. The event was hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership.
“The future of aviation and travel is filled with infinite possibility,” Diaz told the crowd of more than 400. “We are on the cusp of not only the next generation of flight, but also the next frontier of exploration.”
A record 14.4 million passengers traveled through Hobby in 2018, up nearly 8% from the year before. International traffic alone was up 16% year-over-year to surpass the 1 million mark.
Passenger traffic at Bush was also up nearly 8% to 43.8 million travelers. Roughly 10.7 million of that total were international travelers. Diaz said he expects that international figure will continue to go up with the arrival of the much-anticipated new international terminal. When it opens in 2022, the terminal will have six new gates to accommodate wide-body aircraft. Today, roughly two-dozen domestic and foreign flag carriers fly to international destinations out of Bush.
In just a few days, Houston will once again offer flights to all six of the planet’s inhabited continents. Ethiopian Airlines will fly its inaugural flight to Bush on December 16, marking the relaunch of weekly service between Houston and West Africa.
“This service will not only be important for our nation’s largest Nigerian community—which lives in Houston—but also to the diverse businesses community that has demanded access to West Africa for years,” Diaz said.
Turning south to Ellington Airport, Diaz said a new state-of-the-art traffic control tower will be vital to future military and civilian aviation missions as well as the Houston Spaceport being developed there. Earlier this year, officials announced that the Spaceport secured an anchor tenant for its first phase. Flight Safety International will build a $16 million, 150,000-square-foot aviation and aerospace training facility that’s expected to create hundreds of new jobs.
Houston’s airports are vital to the region’s economic success and have been for decades. In his opening remarks, Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey pointed out that some companies expand to Houston because of its global air connections. “Houston’s connections facilitate trade, and that trade attracts more companies and foreign investment,” Harvey said. “In turn, airlines expand their non-stop service to Houston and that cycle continues.”
A recent study shows Houston’s airports contribute more than $36 billion to the local economy annually. That figure will certainly continue to grow as Houston becomes more interconnected with the rest of the world. In just 20 years, there are expected to be more than 8 billion air travelers, a figure that exceeds the entire current population of the world.
"Imagine that: a world where global prosperity is no longer hindered by air connectivity," Diaz told the audience. "Air travel, at it's best, will become a careful and deliberate orchestra--one that will continue to change and shrink the world"