If things go according to plan Southwest may be an international airline by 2015.

Bloomberg.com reported today that Southwest has received the blessing of Houston’s Aviation Director, Mario Diaz to proceed with plans and proposals that would allow the carrier to operate international flights from its Houston-Hobby Airport base. The recommendation has been forwarded to Houston Mayor Annise Parker for further consideration. Further approvals will be needed from the City Council and Federal Regulators.

In Southwest’s study, they anticipate the addition of 10,000 jobs, 1.5 million passengers annually and an economic benefit of 1.6 billion dollars for the Houston area. They would also commit 100 million dollars to expand Hobby Airport to facilitate international flights. The suspected destinations are Mexico, The Caribbean, and other Latin America destinations.

Guess who’s not happy……

United is crying foul to whoever will listen. Being that Houston Intercontinental is a major United hub, the airline feels that it will lose substantial business to Southwest in the international markets that Southwest will serve. CEO Jeff Smisek went as far as to send a memo to Houston’s Mayor suggesting that an approval of Southwest’s plans could jeopardize United’s 700 million dollar commitment to IAH and could lead to 1300 lost United jobs.

We’re still some time away from Southwest being an international airline and there are serious hurdles they have to clear, but I’m happy to see an airline committed to expanding their operation and have the guts to go up against a “major” head to head. Competition is healthy and is good for consumers. It used to define capitalism before politicians and attorneys got in the way.

Even though I am a big fan of United, I’m glad that someone is giving them a run in one of their major markets. All United has to have is a better product than Southwest and competitive pricing and it will have nothing to worry about.

It’s hypocritical if you look at the big picture. United had no problem merging with Continental (or was it the other way around?!?!) and the mega-airline certainly wasn’t worried about the impact it would have on it’s competitors (and obviously hoped to take passengers away from the competition) but along comes relatively tiny Southwest with a vision to grow and United is crying bloody murder. Turnabout is fair play isn’t it???