HOUSTON — Things certainly have changed in the 90 years since a 600-acre pasture — used as a landing field in the still early days of aviation — began the journey toward the modern and growing facility today at William P. Hobby Airport.
Houston’s first commercial airport reached its 90th anniversary earlier in June.
First utilized as a private airfield in 1927, the City of Houston purchased the facility in 1937 and expanded it to 1,240 acres. One year later, it opened as the city’s first commercial airport, complete with its very own control tower. Known then as Howard Hughes Airport and served only by Braniff Airways and Eastern Airlines, the name was eventually changed to Houston Municipal Airport, and its wooden structure was replaced by a more permanent building.
Along with its commercial operations, the facility was used during World War II as a training site for the Women’s Flying Training Detachment. By the end of the war the airport had paved runways, city-built hangars, and a lighting system, and four additional airlines had begun service. It was only a short time later the first international flight service began, prompting a change of name to Houston International Airport in 1954.
The 1950s saw many additions and improvements made in keeping with the airport's international status, including expansion of the old terminal, construction of a new modern terminal, lengthened and strengthened runways capable of handling the new turbojet aircraft, several new hangars, and a high-intensity lighting system. As flight demand grew, so did the airport, and by the mid-1960s facility expansion included an additional terminal and, in 1967, the facility was named in honor of longtime Houston civic leader and Texas Governor William P. Hobby.
When George Bush Intercontinental Airport opened in 1969, Hobby Airport briefly shifted focus to general aviation service, but commercial flights returned to the facility in 1971, and the steady growth and expansion began again.
Today, Hobby Airport boasts an expanded and modern terminal complex, with a new Federal Inspection Services facility to accommodate the return of international air service to the airport in 2015. The final pieces of an ambitious $250 million expansion included another successful partnership with Southwest Airlines and produced a $156 million 280,000-square-foot terminal expansion. A $55 million, 1 million-square-foot new parking facility — coupled with improvements made to the existing terminal parking garage and expansion of the ecopark lot — highlight the $100 million invested by the City of Houston and the Houston Airport system in enabling projects to complement the expansion.
The new terminal facility has been open and operating since October 2015, and already has earned accolades from industry leaders and, more importantly, customers. The new terminal facility includes a five-gate concourse, a modern FIS facility, Southwest Airlines ticketing hall and expanded security checkpoint.
The new, modern concourse boasts “swing gates” — which can accommodate both international and domestic travelers — an expansive ticketing area equipped with self-tagging kiosks to speed up the check-in process, abundant seating in the gate areas that feature seats with electric outlets for charging phones and personal devices, and modern customs facilities that include 14 Automated Passport Control and six Global Entry kiosks to streamline U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) screening and baggage processing for arriving international passengers.
Even prior to the arrival of international air service, Hobby Airport was experiencing unprecedented growth in recent years. Last year marked the sixth consecutive year that an all-time record was set in regards to passenger totals. Nearly 13 million passengers traveled through Hobby Airport in 2016, including more than 800,000 international passengers in the first full year of international air service there.
To learn more all that Hobby Airport has to offer — including its recent expanded retail and dining options — visit this link.
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William P. Hobby ranks third-best North American regional airport; Houston remains the only city in the Western Hemisphere with two four-star rated airports.