The Chron had an interesting point/not-quite-counterpoint about the Hobby expansion proposal on its Sunday op-ed pages. The pro-Hobby expansion piece by Ed Wulfe was mostly rah-rah stuff and didn’t bring anything new to the debate. The other piece, by Darren Bush, was interesting mostly in that it wasn’t an actual counterpoint to Wulfe’s argument.
My view is that City Council should proceed with extreme caution and seek its own independent study to navigate carefully between the Scylla of Pollyannaish hopes and the Charybdis of doom and gloom.
It is no wonder then that the City Council is presented with two pictures. The first, favoring Southwest’s position, promises pie in the sky and the sweet bye and bye. Specifically, the independent estimate prepared for the Houston Airport System makes some lofty assumptions, including a $133 one-way fare from Hobby to Bogota. Other projected benefits of “freeing Hobby” include the creation of 10,000 more jobs, an overall economic impact of $1.6 billion and an increase in passenger traffic to both airports.
United’s story is far less rosy. It has suggested that the move would cause it to cut 1,300 jobs and reduce service. It also claims that the Houston Airport System study is “fundamentally flawed” in its assumptions about the economic effect of international service at Hobby. Finally, United worries that the increased customs presence at Hobby would hurt an already understaffed customs presence at Intercontinental.
City Council: Whom do you trust? My advice to you given the radically different viewpoints is the same as that given in that 1990s hit, “The X-Files:” Trust no one.
Bush recommended Council commission its own study instead. Which I guess is reasonable advice, though it could wind up being moot if Southwest gets impatient and decides to pursue opportunities in San Antonio or Orange County or wherever. It also feels rather like a copout by a guy whose byline says he is “a professor of law at the University of Houston Law Center who has testified before U.S. House and Senate Judiciary Committees on numerous airline matters”. I mean, the HAS study is on the web, along with other related documents. It’s not very long, though it is somewhat technical. I’ve read through it, and while I’m hardly qualified to give testimony on airline matters, I thought I grasped its main points, and it seemed sensible to me. Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone with actual expertise and no skin in the game had offered his own expert opinion on it? If he had access to United’s study, which as far as I know is not publicly available, an expert evaluation of that would be useful to the debate as well. This, I’m not sure what use it is.
Now clearly Bush is skeptical to some degree of the HAS study, though his recitation of talking points doesn’t tell us anything we haven’t already heard. Maybe this is just his way of saying there’s nothing else to say about it. And maybe he just didn’t have enough space to go into whatever other reasons he may have had for discounting this study. All I’m saying is that it seems like a waste of an expert’s talents to have him write something that any non-expert could have done.