Southwest Airlines has selected Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as a base for international flights, following its initial choice of Houston's William P. Hobby Airport where Southwest began construction of an international terminal this fall, a Southwest official said Thursday.
“All airports believe in themselves, but this is a business decision involving market return and what's most profitable,” Southwest Director of Airport Affairs Randy Gillespie said. “At all times, all airports are under consideration. This is not an expulsion of Tampa or Orlando.”Gillespie said Houston Hobby with its central U.S. location will be a great gateway to Mexico and central South America.
“Houston is a jewel and so is Fort Lauderdale,” Gillespie said.
Southwest has not identified destinations from either Houston or Fort Lauderdale, saying that's premature with the grand opening in Houston scheduled for the latter part of 2015, with Fort Lauderdale about two years behind.
Fort Lauderdale might accommodate more of a Caribbean focus given its location, Gillespie said. Southwest's Boeing 737-800 series could reach the central part of Brazil from Southern U.S. airports.
Southwest's entry into international flight market was enhanced by its merger with AirTran Airways, which flies non-stop to Mexico and Carribbean destinations from eight U.S. airports, including Orlando International.
The airline's route structure is evolving, Gillespie said, with fewer intrastate flights.
Financial analysts have said Southwest's growth is likely to depend on how it can capitalize on generating new international business.
“Our mandate is to grow international air service,” Tampa International spokeswoman Janet Zink said. “We're certainly hopeful that in the future Southwest will bring international flights here.”