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The Houston Airport System (HAS) is reaching new heights in overall passengers served, expanding international service, and aiming to become part of the growing commercial space industry.

Three airports provide diverse service and destination options to the nearly 7 million Houston area residents and the millions of visitors to the region. George Bush Intercontinental Airport, William P. Hobby Airport, and Ellington Airport served more than 55 million passengers in 2015 — a record high — and collectively represent an annual economic impact of $27.5 billion to the region.

Together the three growing facilities form one of North America's largest commercial airport systems and position Houston as a premiere international passenger and cargo global gateway.

The flagship is Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is becoming an anchor of international air travel. International air traffic has increased more than 60 percent over the past decade, rising to a record 10.6 million passengers in 2015. With five passenger terminals set on nearly 12,000 acres in north Houston, Bush Intercontinental is the largest hub for United Airlines and features service from 28 additional airlines. Bush Intercontinental carriers provide scheduled non-stop domestic and international service to nearly 200 destinations. A record 43 million passengers overall traveled through Bush Intercontinental in 2015, including nearly 33 million domestic passengers, and the airport welcomed five new foreign flag carriers while also enjoying expanded service to international destinations from existing carriers.

To address the growing passenger numbers, HAS embarked on a multi-dimensional expansion plan at Bush Intercontinental that will culminate in a new, larger international terminal, and in 2015 broke ground on a new Terminal C North concourse, the result of a partnership with United. The $244 million project will create a 265,000-square-foot facility, more than 100,000 square feet larger than the existing Terminal C North, with 11 passenger boarding gates to accommodate a mix of United’s narrow-, mid- and wide-body aircraft.

When construction on the new concourse is completed, HAS will demolish the existing Terminal C North facility at Bush Intercontinental to enable the reconstruction of the Mickey Leland International Terminal D. The international terminal is critical to the airport’s extensive connecting air traffic, particularly for those customers connecting between United flights and flights operated by United’s international airline partners.

Hobby Airport saw growth of its own in 2015. For a sixth consecutive year, Hobby set a passenger total record, serving more than 12 million passengers in 2015. Demand for travel from Hobby is growing at a steady pace and has increased more than 30 percent in 10 years — an increase of nearly 3 million passengers since 2006.

But, the growth didn’t stop there. The home to the industry’s low-cost carriers, including anchor tenant Southwest Airlines, HAS and Southwest partnered to open a new $156 million terminal at Hobby, providing international service to Mexico, Latin American and Caribbean destinations in 2015. The freshly minted 280,000-square-foot complex includes a five-gate concourse — featuring “swing gates” that can accommodate both international and domestic travelers — a new gate area with abundant seating equipped with electric outlets for charging phones and personal devices, an expansive ticketing area equipped with self-tagging kiosks to speed up the check-in process, and a Federal Inspection Station facility with modern customs technology that includes 14 Automated Passport Control and six Global Entry kiosks to streamline U.S. Customs and Border Protection screening and baggage processing for arriving international passengers.

In a unique partnership, Southwest agreed to cover expenses associated with the concourse while HAS invested nearly $100 million on a number of enabling projects, including a new 3,000 space parking garage and roadway.

Ellington Airport — on the cusp of its 100th anniversary — is a successful joint-use facility that supports the operations of the U.S. military, NASA and a variety of general aviation tenants, but now aims to go even higher — literally — since becoming the nation's 10th licensed commercial spaceport.

Named the “Deal of the Year” in 2015 by the Houston Business Journal, the license makes Ellington Airport a potential launch and landing site for suborbital, reusable launch vehicles. Already, committed partners to the program include the Houston Airport System, NASA, the Greater Houston Partnership, The Sierra Nevada Corp., the City of Houston, Rice Space Institute, Texas A&M Aerospace Technology, University of Houston College of Architecture, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, U.K.-based Catapult Satellite Applications, and Intuitive Machines.

Still in the developmental stage, construction will eventually include a co-working space located in a recently purchased 53,000 square foot building adjacent to Ellington, room for several aerospace companies, and more.

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