The Houston Airport System, a branch of the municipal government, oversees the operation of three major public airports in the city. Two of these airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport, offer commercial aviation service to a variety of domestic and international destinations and served 55 million passengers in 2016. The third, Ellington Airport, is home to the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base. The Federal Aviation Administration and the state of Texas selected the Houston Airport System as “Airport of the Year” in 2005, largely due to the implementation of a $3.1 billion airport improvement program for both major airports in Houston.
George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), located 23 miles (37 km) north of Downtown Houston between Interstates 45 and 69, is the eighth-busiest commercial airport in the United States (by total passengers and aircraft movements) and forty third-busiest globally. The five-terminal, five-runway, 11,000-acre (4,500-hectare) airport served 40 million passengers in 2016, including 10 million international travelers. In 2006, the United States Department of Transportation named IAH the fastest-growing of the top ten airports in the United States. The Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center is located at Bush Intercontinental.
Houston was the headquarters of Continental Airlines until its 2010 merger with United Airlines with headquarters in Chicago; regulatory approval for the merger was granted in October of that year. Bush Intercontinental is currently United Airlines’ second-largest hub, behind O’Hare International Airport. United Airlines’ share of the Houston Airport System’s commercial aviation market was nearly 60% in 2017 with 16 million enplaned passengers. In early 2007, Bush Intercontinental Airport was named a model “port of entry” for international travelers by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
William P. Hobby Airport (HOU), known as Houston International Airport until 1967, operates primarily short- to medium-haul domestic and international flights to 60 destinations. The four-runway, 1,304-acre (528-hectare) facility is located approximately 7 miles (11 km) southeast of Downtown Houston. In 2015, Southwest Airlines launched service from a new international terminal at Hobby to several destinations in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. These were the first international flights flown from Hobby since the opening of Bush Intercontinental in 1969. Houston’s aviation history is showcased in the 1940 Air Terminal Museum, located in the old terminal building on the west side of the airport. Hobby Airport has been recognized with two awards for being one of the top five performing airports in the world and for customer service by Airports Council International.
Houston’s third municipal airport is Ellington Airport, used by the military, government (including NASA) and general aviation sectors.
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