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Interview with: Paul Koonce
Interviewed by: Interviewer's Name
Archive Number: OH 094
LM: I’d like to start the interview by asking you a few questions concerning the early period. How did you first become involved with the operations at the airport, at the Hobby Airport?
PK: February 1941, I was in the practice of law and had been for about 5 years here in Houston. I was called from the city hall one day to ask if I’d be interested in a job with the city. I inquired as to what that job was, and I was advised that it was as chief clerk at municipal airport, which is now Hobby Airport. I investigated the job, and the law practice wasn’t at its best at that time, so I thought I’d take the job for about a year and then go back to my law practice. I took the job, and that year turned into 32 years. (laughs)
LM: An extended stay.
PK: An extended stay for 32 years. I retired March 30, 1973 from the Hobby Airport. At that time, they had the second administration building, which is the one still standing on the west side of the airport and about 7 small hangers on the airport. I had 2 airlines operating out there. One was Eastern Airlines, and the other one was Braniff. This was in February of 1941, and I believe it was May of that same year that the third airline came into Houston which was Chicago and Southern Airlines. We had no paved runways. What runways we had were a shell. The shell was laid down and graded with a big road grader, and it was a constant process of keeping the runways and taxiways usable. The process was a constant maintenance process of running a road grader over them, supplying additional shell, and the city was, at that time, even controlling the air traffic on the airport. The city operated and controlled the control tower operations and did so until 1942, when the federal government took it over. The city also was engaged in the storage of aircraft, sale of gasoline and oil, and other supplies for aircraft. That was one of the sources of revenue, but we finally got out of that phase of the operation and leased it all out to contractors.
LM: What was your job when you first started working there?
PK: My job was chief clerk, which was tantamount to assistant manager at that time. Then in about 6 or 8 months, the manager was fired.
LM: Why was that?
PK: I think it was due to some politics and failure to get along with some of his employees who had been there longer than he had, and they didn’t hit it off very well.
LM: Do you remember who he was?
PK: His name was J. S. McGuire. To fill that position then, a Mr. Frank Christian was appointed manager. Mr. Frank Christian was a man who had formally been in the real estate business, I believe, and did quite a bit of work for the Hughes Tool Company. He stayed there for, I guess, 6 or 8 months or maybe a year. Then he was dismissed.
LM: For the same reasons?
PK: For what reasons, I never did know. It was done at the city hall. Then they made me acting manager.
LM: What year was that?
PK: [05:45] That was 1942, I believe, about the middle of the year, about July of ’42. I have been in active control of the airport until March 30, 1973.
LM: During that first couple of years that you were there, you said the city was renting out or selling gas and other facilities?
PK: Yes, sir.
LM: Was it at a profit? Were they—do you remember if it was?
PK: Very little profit. We made more money out of it on a lease-basis than we did by handling ourselves because of the expense and the operating of it. We had to hire a lot of people to handle the stuff after it was delivered at the airport. They were there on your payroll whether you were selling the thing or not, so you had to have them there. If you didn’t sell much gasoline, their salaries remained the same. We had no maintenance facilities on aircraft like you hanger operators do. They render a complete service, for the most part, these hanger operators do. They repair airplanes, and they sell oil and gasoline and other services for the airplanes. They store them. They sell new airplanes. It’s a complete service.
LM: Were there any other airfields in the vicinity that competed with Hobby?
PK: No, there weren’t any as large as Hobby. We had minor Stewart Airport, which was a small privately owned airport back over here, 4 or 5 miles from this one. There was a South Main Airport way out on Main Street. It was a small airport, catered only to small, private planes. Those are the only ones that I recall at the moment that were in existence at that time, other than Ellington Field, of course, out here.
LM: Was it mostly—I’m speaking now before the war—was it mostly passenger service or was it cargo service?
PK: It was passenger service before the war, mostly. The airlines carried passengers and mail. They didn’t have much cargo service before then. They really didn’t get into heavy cargo service until after the war was over.
LM: You said in ’42, the federal government took over operation of the airport?
PK: Yeah—not the airport, just the control tower.
LM: How did the war years change activities at the airport?
PK: [08:57] The war years made a great dent in our operations because they took the airlines planes that they were using in passenger service, and put them into military service. The schedules that were serving Houston were reduced materially when we got into the war, possibly cut by 50% or more. I don’t remember the records offhand. I have a lot of memorabilia and facts and figures and that sort of thing that reveals a lot of that stuff, but I can’t remember offhand.
LM: Right, well, I don’t expect you to actually remember those.
PK: It materially affected the passenger service in and out of Houston. I remember you used to have to have a priority to get on an airplane out of Houston, or any other place, for that matter, on an airline service. If you didn’t have a priority, you didn’t ride if there was someone else that did have one. Military personnel too priority over civilian, of course, and if you were traveling without a priority of some type, either a military person or engaged in some type of defense work, you were out of luck. You might get into Chicago and be bumped off, and you couldn’t get back on the airplane for a week. (laughs)
LM: It wasn’t exactly the time to take a tour of the country, was it?
PK: No, it wasn’t because I remember I got bumped off one night in Oklahoma City, and I had to ride the train back.
LM: What was the administrative structure at that time of the airport?
PK: [11:04] I believe when I first went to the airport, it was under the Public Works Department, I believe, or Utilities Department. They had the Utilities Department, or it was the head of the Water Department. They had an old Gas Department. I think they still have some of that old Gas Department. Mainly the Water Department, Utilities Department, and in that at one time, was the airport. Then it was under the Public Works Department for quite some time. Then it was made an Airport Department and reported directly—that was when the city of Houston had a city manager, and it reported directly to the city manager.
LM: Did the city council actually exert direct control over the Hobby Airport at that time through the departments?
PK: Yeah, they were over all of the departments, you see, yeah.
LM: Did they hire the individuals specifically? Was it an appointment or—?
PK: They only approved the department heads, I believe, like they do now. The Civil Service approved the other employees. I was originally a Civil Service employee when I went out there.
LM: What was your next position?
PK: Oh, I had served under several different titles. One was airport superintendent, airport manager, airport director, and then back to airport manager again. I believe those are the only ones I can think of. It was airport manager when I retired.
LM: During the war years, you had gone up to assistant manager, is that it?
PK: Now, in the war years, 1942, as soon as we got into the war, I was promoted from chief clerk to acting manager.
LM: Acting manager?
PK: Yes sir.
LM: What kind of problems did you have as acting manager during these war years in the actual operations?
PK: During the war years, one of the biggest problems I had was personnel, was getting adequate personnel to present a decent operation because your companies that were engaged in defense operations, manufacturing materials for the defense of our country, they got the cream of the crop of all of the employees in those days. They paid much more than the city was paying, a lot more than a lot of the other companies that were not engaged in the manufacture of materials and things for the military. We just took what was left after they had taken the better employees, and sometimes you’d hire a man, and he’d be with you 1 day, and the next day he was gone. They returned as floaters.
LM: What kind of positions did you need to fill?
PK: [15:25] Well, some of them were just labor. Some of them were servicing aircraft for the gasoline, oils, cleaning, polishing airplanes, cleaning up the hanger facilities, keeping the grounds, and doing maintenance work on the fields, the runways and taxiways.
LM: General duties?
PK: General duties, uh-hunh (affirmative).
LM: It wasn’t the degree of specialization that exists today?
PK: No. Then we had to have clearance officers. We had to keep a record of every aircraft that arrived and every aircraft that took off. For awhile, we even had to search their baggage like the U.S. Customs and Immigration do now. That was soon after we got in to the Second World War, after Pearl Harbor, you know. Everything was pretty much in an uproar at the airport and everywhere else. Those people had to be people with some intelligence and ability that cleared these airplanes and hosed out their flights, arrival and departure notices. They were in contact with the public when they came in to determine if they were carrying anything in their baggage that was against the rules and regulations. We had guards walking up and down the walks and in front of the buildings with the shotguns and the pistols on, both sides of the building, the field side, and the road side. It was just kind of a state of confusion at the beginning, but it leveled off and got down to routine operations.
LM: At what point did—you told me about when the federal government took over operation of the control tower. Prior to that, what training did the people at the control tower receive? Did the city have specifications for them?
PK: That, I’m not familiar with because this happened soon after I went out to the airport. I went out in February, and this took place in July. The people that were there when I arrived remained there until the government took it over, and then they just took these employees over.
LM: Oh, I see. They used the same employees?
PK: [18:28] Used the same employees—they took those off our hands. I suppose they had had some training. They had to have some type of training before they went in the control tower. They need to know something about airplanes and something about the landing area and what type of aircraft it would accommodate and what type it wouldn’t accommodate, and had to know that it was dangerous to get them too close together in the air. You had to keep a certain separation between landing airplanes. If the weather got too bad, and it got down to where it was dangerous for them to try to land at the airport, why they needed to know those things too and advice the pilots. Of course, the operators, they operated in conjunction with the weather bureau. They kept themselves advised as to weather conditions from the U.S. Weather Bureau.
LM: I was curious about the standards that the city had in comparison to the standards set by the government.
PK: Well, of course, the city, at that time, didn’t have near the detailed standards that the federal government later promulgated and operated under. They were just beginning to take over these towers all over the country, and they were building their own rules and regulations out of experience and necessity.
LM: Did you see any improvement in the operation when the government took over?
PK: Well, immediately you didn’t see a lot of improvement. It was about the same. You used the same facilities, but in the long run, they did have to make great improvements because of the immense increase in traffic that they had to handle. The safety regulations had to be improved, of course, and as they went along, they did improve them.
LM: Were there any major events, or how was the airport affected between say, ’45 and ’50? Well, I imagine there was a great—
PK: [21:11] From 1945 and ’50—well, after 1941—that is, after we got into the Second World War, we had a lot of vacant space in our old terminal building out there, space that we didn’t rent at all until the war was over. When the war was over, it began to fill up, and we ran completely out of space. We were just hurting for additional space, so we had to start putting in some temporary buildings around, sitting them around the terminal. We had 4 or 5 small, temporary buildings set up on the outside of the terminal, on the pavement, out of which people operated. One airline started that way. It was originally called S Air Airlines, and it was subsequently changed to Pioneer Airlines. They started in one of those little temporary buildings.
Then our facility became so crowded, and there was such a great need for additional housing for firms that wanted to operate at the airport. The city bought out the national guard lease, which covered 35 acres of land back in the southwest corner of the airport. They bought that lease in order to get the building. They had a nice administration building down there. We turned around and leased that to Pioneer Airlines, since they were a growing airline. Then Ellington Field, why, became the new home for the national guard. They moved over there. Ever since, it’s just been growing, growing, growing, getting bigger and bigger, and more airlines coming in.
LM: Was there much competition for these leases?
PK: Do you mean the airline leases?
LM: For space?
PK: There was at that time, yes. Space was at a premium. At that time, we boxed in some of the space on the mezzanine floor of the terminal building. We had an open mezzanine, and we boxed that in and just left a little passageway for people to go around, boxed it in and made office space out of it. Oh, it was very competitive at that time, and remained so until we moved out of that building and got over into the new terminal on the north side, which is Hobby Terminal, on the new Hobby Terminal, yeah. See, this is the third terminal we’ve had out there. The original terminal was a frame building, which burned in April of 1941. This second building was opened in 1939, the old building was. The first building was practically vacant when it was burned. I think there was tenant in it. He was running a little automotive repair business out of it. It wasn’t all I could find.
LM: About 1950, interest developed in the establishment of a new airfield, after an international airport, didn’t it?
PK: Oh, I don’t remember the exact date when that started. It started long before it ever became a realization, though.
LM: Do you remember any plans for an airport out at Sharpstown?
PK: Yes sir. That was a plan that was promoted by Glen McCarthy.
LM: That’s what I heard.
PK: [26:03] I guess it was right in there in the Sharpstown area. West Mullin Farms, it was called at that time. I believe that he’d blocked that up and was proposing to sell it to the city. He even came up with a plan for a terminal in all of that. As I remember, he had a model of the airport and terminal all made up in an effort to try to sell it to the city fathers. For one, or many, reasons, it never did materialize. I don’t know what happened to it.
LM: Do you know any of the reasons at all?
PK: No, I don’t. That was your political end of it, you see, that I wasn’t too familiar with. I was in operations, just going on paddling my canoe and letting somebody else take care of those problems.
LM: Were there any other plans at that same time, for an international airport? What I was trying to find out was really whether the present site was in question, had been proposed at that time, and had won over the Sharpstown idea?
PK: Not at that time. No, this was earlier than that. They did have a survey made of possible sites for a second airport, many years before it actually became a reality. This survey was made by a man by the name of Thomas Barn. I believe he was out of Washington. Now, he made a selection of several sites, which would be suitable for an airport. The one out here where intercontinental is now, I believe, was his preference, was his preferred site. In later years, that when we started making surveys for the intercontinental airport or the second airport. That was reviewed, of course, along with many other sites. We even went out and we went all over—what’s this dam site out here—Addicks Dam area. I was with the committee that went out, and we surveyed that thing and looked at it thoroughly. From there, went on across and finally wound up at Intercontinental Airport’s site, where it is right now. We came to the conclusion that that was a better site than some of these others we looked at, including the one at the dam.
LM: What did you feel about the one at the dam? How did you feel it would make it?
PK: [29:19] I didn’t feel that that was a very suitable site. In the first place, I think we’d have water problems out there because you’re down in the reservoir. You’d had to build it up so high. Well, in building it up, you would’ve defeated the purpose in building the dam in the first place. You’re taking a reservoir and building a reservoir, and then you’re coming back and filling it up for an airport. Mr. Barns plan was finally born out. His preference was born out by quite a number of the local people who were assigned to study this thing and its final analysis for us for finding a new airport site. I guess it’s still a pretty good site.
LM: Was Ellington Airfield ever considered seriously?
PK: Yes it was. It was considered, but the military would not give—as I understand—give the city assurance that it would not ever take it over again as a military base or that it would not use it for any purpose in the future. That would mean that you would have it on a temporary basis, which would not be a good arrangement. You might have a prosperous airport operation going, and all of a sudden, the military would say, “Well, we need this. You’ll have to get out and find you another airport.”
LM: That would be very inconvenient, wouldn’t it?
PK: Very inconvenient. (laughs)
LM: How did you feel about it personally at this time?
PK: About Ellington?
LM: Well, about any of the sites. First of all, did you see a real need for another airport or could this one have been expanded?
PK: [31:35] This one could’ve been expanded at great expense, yes, bridging over Telephone Road out here. You see, our runway comes right up to Telephone Road, and coming over another road out here on this southeast end of the field. Then, in addition to all of that expense, you had Ellington Field traffic, Genoa Airport traffic, La Porte Airport traffic, Pearland Airport traffic, Clover Field airport traffic, all right here in a small area. Then you had these fast jets flying in and out, mixed with this slow moving airplane traffic, which doesn’t make for a very healthy situation. (laughs)
LM: I wouldn’t think so.
PK: Ellington had the fast jets over there, and then at the same time NASA was using it for their training base. That was one of the biggest drawbacks to spending great sums of money on Hobby Airport here trying to develop it into an intercontinental airport, when you could avoid all of that expense and put it in on another new site where you wouldn’t have all of these safety hazards. Out there we had 3 little airports that went out of business. There were 2 right there close to it. They’re no longer a factor, and there was another one, Collier Airport, I believe, and that’s been turned into some other operation. I believe the city bought that land for something else. That’s the only airport right in that vicinity. There’s a small one out close to Spring, Texas, I believe, out close to where this blimp is based.
LM: Did the city have authority over any of these other—well, I know not Ellington, certainly—but some of the smaller airports near Hobby?
PK: No. That’s the only airport the city owned, first and only airport they owned until they built Intercontinental.
LM: Those others are simply private?
PK: Private airports, yeah.
LM: Couldn’t they have regulated the traffic on those?
PK: Well, the city couldn’t unless they were within the city limits. Now, the federal government could regulate them.
LM: They were all outside the city limits?
PK: Yes sir.
LM: Okay. In 1958, the new city department of aviation was created. Did that bring about any drastic changes or any changes at all?
PK: [34:58] Not to a great extent. It created an office of director of aviation at the city hall. Prior to this, we didn’t have a representative at the city hall directly connected with aviation. It was not a separate department. Of course, this director of aviation became the liaison between the operation of the airport and the mayor’s office. He just reported to the mayor like any other department head. It didn’t affect the personnel. We kept the same people. Policies might’ve changed some to conform to his wishes and desires.
LM: You were given the position of assistant to aviation director in ’64?
PK: Yes, I served as assistant director of aviation, I guess it was, but I still stayed at Hobby Airport, in charge of Hobby Airport.
LM: I see. It was quite puzzling reading through the information I was able to get, the changing titles and exactly—
PK: Yes, back and forth, but my responsibilities and duties remained the same all the way through. I was in charge of Hobby Airport.
LM: What were the problems that you had faced during the early ‘60s?
PK: The early ‘60s?
LM: Or the late ‘50s—it’s difficult, I know, to draw a sharp line of distinction, but during that period.
PK: Well, the ‘60s—that’s about the time that we were had this new airport under construction.
LM: You were involved in that also?
PK: Oh, yes, I was very much involved in the planning of it.
LM: Well, please go into some detail about that.
PK: [37:43] The city hired some engineers and consultants to take over the entire job of planning and laying out this new airport facility that is Intercontinental Airport. They hired 2 or 3 engineering and architectural firms combined. They used 2 engineering firms and 1 architectural firm. They started planning for this new airport. We had meeting after meeting to study the type of runway layout we wanted. When we finally determined that, they got into the terminal building, the type of building that we wanted. That brought on many, many, many hours of study and discussions.
LM: And some debate, I would imagine?
PK: A lot of debate, a lot of debate. At that time, there were a number of efficiently operating terminal all over the country, from which these engineers and architects could draw for experience and statistics and aesthetics and all of the other factors that go into making a nice terminal operation. Well, they studied many of these terminals, I think some in foreign countries even. Of course, the city’s representatives, the aviation representatives, and these architects and engineers were supposed to come up with a plan that would be efficient for handling people. The people were to be the first concern, getting you into this terminal, getting you onto the right airplane, and getting you out.
That was the purpose of the whole terminal setup, and so that you would walk the shortest distance possible from the time that you got out of the automobile until you got onto the airplane. Many passengers had raised objections to having to walk long distances at many airports. You can go into the terminal, and then you’d walk a half mile out to the airplane. They didn’t like that. Well, there were just a lot of little problems like that that you had to take into account and try to come up with a plan that would be suitable and acceptable to the public. If you loose sight of Mr. J.Q. Public when he’s planning all of these facilities, you’ll soon find him after you start operating it because he will point out your mistakes to you. (laughs)
LM: Except it’s a little late then.
PK: It’s too late then. Many, many hours were spent in planning this new intercontinental airport.
LM: Did any of your specific ideas end up actually accepted?
PK: Oh, I can’t point out any particular thing that I’ve pointed out to them that might’ve been incorporated into the plans. Of course, I’m sure that I made some contribution to some of the concepts that went into it, along like all the rest of them did.
LM: Were there any particular naughty problems in working out the details of the plan?
PK: No, except just getting people in agreement on them. Of course, we had to be constantly watching the costs. You had to stay within the certain framework of running that you had to work with.
LM: Did it turn out to your satisfaction?
PK: [42:54] I think it turned out to be a pretty acceptable terminal, as terminals are over the country. I think it’s about as functional, if not more so, than some of the others I’ve been into. Of course, I’m still partial to Hobby. I think Hobby was one of the most simplified terminals. It’s so easy to get in and get out of. You find your way around in it. Some of the terminals today have become somewhat complicated, and you find it a problem just to find your way through them. Of course, as they grow larger, they, I suppose, are inherently more complicated.
LM: Are there any features in the new airport which are unique or which you think are major contributions to it?
PK: I didn’t get your question.
LM: Are there any features in the new airport which you find unique or particularly outstanding in rating the airport with others in the country?
PK: I don’t think so. Most all of them have adopted about the same facilities for handling the public that we have out here at Intercontinental. You have your loading ramps, whereas you used to walk out on the ground, walk on the ground in the weather up to the airplane, and climb the steps into the airplane. They’ve all gotten away from that now, your major terminals have. You walk out on a second-floor level, and you walk across in an enclosed ramp from that building into the airplane. You never get out in the weather at all. Well, that was something new to Houston, but it’s pretty common all over the country now. We have a little tunnel train—they call it out there. You’ll find that in other large airports also. That takes you from one terminal to the other on the ground without having to cross other traffic. Of course, it was new for us.
LM: What was your relationship with the mayor during this period, or mayors?
PK: [45:44] My relationship with the mayor during this period was not too close because there was an office between me and the mayor. My closest relationship was with the director, who was my boss, who was for the most of the time Joe Foster. He made contacts with the mayor’s office.
LM: In ’67 and ’68 were pretty hectic years, it appears from what I’ve been able to read. I was thinking particularly of Bill Elliott’s causes and sort of the operation of it.
PK: —Hobby Airport?
LM: —Hobby Airport, yeah. Well, I was thinking specifically he was complaining that the city’s interests were not being fully protected. I wondered if you might talk a bit on that.
PK: I don’t remember enough of the details on that.
LM: It had to do with the Atlas Aviation Company. There was a drop in parking tickets, not enough of revenue was being raised.
PK: I don’t remember many of the details on that. I do know there was just kind of a—I don’t know whether it was a—
LM: He was criticizing the director at that time.
PK: Yeah, he and Mr. Foster were kind of having a running battle along about that time. I remember he was criticizing some of the operations down in the international area too, where Customs and Immigration worked or the facilities down there or something. I have several big recollections about the criticism that existed from Mr. Elliott’s office to Mr. Foster, and I believe Mr. Elliott had a friend on the airport also who was giving Mr. Foster a hard time along about the same time, and he was feeding information to Mr. Elliott, I think. I won’t call his name because he’s still there, (laughs) but I know what you’re talking about.
LM: Yeah. What I was trying to get to was were there a lot of politics involved in it?
LM: Or was genuine concern for the problems—?
PK: I think it’s more of the other.
LM: More the politics? There was apparently some conflict between you and a Mr. S. E. Manzo?
PK: S. E. Mansole?
LM: What was his position?
PK: [48:57] He was director of aviation for awhile. Foster left here and went to work for the federal government. He was head of airports development for the Federal Aviation Agency in Washington for a long time. During that time, Mr. Manzo became director of aviation. Mr. Manzo and I just didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. He had some friends that he did see eye-to-eye with, and he would prefer to have one of them in my place, I think was the whole thing. He had the man already picked for my place. I found out later. He one day asked me if I wouldn’t be willing to step down as airport manager to assistant manager and let him put this other man in my place. I told him I’ve have to think about that. I asked him for some reason for that, and he says no except he had indications from the mayor’s office that that’s the way it would like to be. Before I gave him an answer, I checked with the mayor’s office on it. I wanted to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. It wasn’t that way, so I skipped that. It wasn’t many months before he was gone, and I was still there. The man he had in mind for my job did go to work for the city though. In fact, he was assistant manager under me out there, and he got in a little trouble with the law, and he wasn’t there long.
LM: He was involved with the airfields afterwards?
PK: No, not at the airport—outside of that—the police department. I won’t go into that angle of it, but he became involved with the law enforcement agencies on a little matter that involved him personally, he and his wife. That ended his career as assistant airport manager. It wasn’t long after that until Mr. Manzo left. That’s about all I have to say about that.
LM: It appears from my research that one of the major problems, at least, the administration of the airport during this time, was the increasing expense of maintaining the airfield and the lack of funds coming in. What was the reason for this? Was it the old criminal inflation or—?
PK: [52:27] Well, that had a lot to do with it, yes. However, we made enough money to take care of all of the maintenance on the airport, but what you’re referring to is retirement of bonded indebtedness. We were not meeting all of that. I don’t think over the years we ever did get to where we met all of that, maybe in the latter years during my operations out there, but not in the earlier or immediate years. I think it is one thing that caused them to go to revenue bond financing at Intercontinental Airport. There you sell these bonds on the basis of the revenues that you are going to report, are going to produce, and it pays for itself. If you can convince the bond buyers that you can produce enough revenue from this operation to pay off these bonds with interest every year and keep the thing in operating condition and in the red, why, you can sell your bonds. That’s the basis on which that airport operates on practically with all revenue bonds. I think, except the purchase of the land, they bought it with tax bonds.
LM: Do you have ideas as to how to increase income of the airport?
PK: I wouldn’t have any now, no.
LM: No—I mean—at that time. Did you project any?
PK: Oh, I might have in our many discussions about revenues. Of course, that was going on all the time about how we could improve our revenue production ability and cut down the costs. As your revenues go up and your costs go down, your difference is profits—you know—and that is what we were constantly striving for is at least keep these two in balance and not let them get out of balance because we didn’t want our expenditures to exceed our revenues.
LM: Back in ’69, you made a prediction which seemingly has come true. You said that, according to what I’ve been able to find here, that the short hauls to local towns would help bring you more revenue, and frankly that is what’s happening.
PK: Yes, well, you’ve got that. Right here in Southwest Airlines is a good example of that. That’s an excellent example of it. The short-haul operations have gotten to where they’re not too attractive to the big airlines. They go in for the long-haul stuff. That’s where the big money is. When they got into some of the—well, most of the airlines eventually get into the long haul. When they get into long haul, they begin to see the advantage of that over the short-haul operations, and many of these short-haul operations are not productive, but they have to meet those schedules anyways if they’re operating on a schedule. Eventually they’ll start leasing them, asking to be relieved of the responsibility of serving these small-haul operations, and when that happens, then these smaller airlines come into existence and start taking them over. Southwest is one of them. Now they’ve taken this haul between Houston and San Antonio, Houston and Dallas.
Well, it’s just a triangle, and they’ve done real well with it. Now, they’re operating into the valley. I think they’re going into Harlingen now. I don’t know whether they’ve gone into Austin or not, but I noticed that the State Aeronautics Commission had organized some type of service between Houston and—I believe—it’s Austin. I don’t know the town, but it’s some new service the State Aeronautics Commission has just authorized on the short-haul basis and cross-state operation. I saw it in today’s paper. They named the company who was going to operate it. Most of these places they’re going to serve, I noticed were cities that were formally served by the larger airlines. I think that will continue to grow. I think you’ll see more of the short-hauls coming in.
LM: What do you see the future of Hobby being?
PK: Well, Hobby, I think, will always be a heavily populated airport from the standpoint from general aviation—that is your corporate flying and private flying—because they’re so deeply involved in it right now. All of those hangers over there, most of them have been built with corporate funds and private funds on a long-term lease basis between the city and the tenant, as far as the land is concerned. It can’t stop. It can’t stop in short order because of these long-term leases, so it’s going to be there for a long time yet. It always has been the major portion of the flying on Hobby Airport. Even when the airlines were there and at their peak, it was running about 60-40 percent, 60 percent private and corporate flying, and 40 percent airline. The public looked mostly upon the airport as being an airline airport, when in reality most of your flying was not airline at all. It was corporate and private. Your statistics will show you that in those you have at the library.
Other than that, we might get some additional airline service in here. At Texas International gave a lot of thought to coming into Hobby Airport, in fact, they went so far as to start preparing some facilities at the terminal over there for their use. They had a strike or something like that, and it affected their finances naturally, and they just never have come back to that as far as I know. Braniff operated over there for quite some time, and they finally pulled out. They were competing with Southwest Airlines.
LM: They couldn’t make it?
PK: [1:01:13] Well, it was nice for people flying from here to Dallas. You had a choice between Braniff and Southwest, but their coming back over there was strictly on a competitive basis with Southwest Airlines because Southwest was competing with them from Houston to Dallas. Southwest originally started from Intercontinental Airport, and they were having a hard time making it out there, so they decided to come to Hobby Airport, just to see what would happen, and they found out.
LM: They did all right.
PK: They did fine. I suppose they’re still going strong. From all I hear, they’re doing real good.
LM: Well, are there any areas that you’d like to talk about that I didn’t raise during the interview? At the conclusion of the interview, we always let the interviewee go back and provide any additional information that they may want to.
PK: Oh, I don’t think of anything else that might be of particular interest to you that’s not on paper, such as the time when the city first bought the land, who they bought it from, when the airport first opened, who opened it, the type of operation it was. It was originally a private airport—you know—Hobby Airport was. It was owned by the W. T. Carter Company. They opened that airport in 1927, just a small, country airport. They called it a cow-pasture type of airport. They operated it there for 10 years as a private airport. Finally, this great city of Houston began to grow and got a turning basin in here and had a lot of ship and water transport traffic in here, and it had trains coming in here, buses coming in here, but it didn’t have any air transportation. Of course, some of your forward-looking citizens always for looking for improvements to their cities and means of improving business and commerce—
LM: Anybody in particular come to mind?
PK: [1:04:27] —and began to think about air travel into Houston. Well, I can remember one gentleman who had a lot to do with it, Mr. A. D. Simpson, who was very active in the Chamber of Commerce Aviation Committee, and also he was with the Bank of Commerce, Mr. Jessie Jones Bank. In fact, he was one of Mr. Jessie Jones’ right-hand men. In fact, I’ve got a quotation that he made somewhere in my files in there when this airport was first opened in 1927. It alluded to the fact that we now have an airport in Houston, and we’ll soon have airplanes coming and going like trains. Then there were several other gentlemen who had a lot to do with early aviation there, Colonel Walter Carlin with the Gulf Oil Corporation.
LM: Walter who?
PK: Carlin, I believe his name was, Walter Carlin. Then there was a gentleman with a Texas Company, and I can’t recall his name. See, your oil companies were I guess the first ones to get into corporate flying here in Houston. They started out with—really the National Guard was based on this airport and one of the first tenants out there. They built 2 hangers out there. When the city started thinking about getting air service into here, they had to start looking for an airport. This airport had to meet certain qualifications for this area of service. The result was that they bought this W. T. Carter Company’s airport out here and bought some additional land to go with it, and they started out with about 600 acres.
LM: What year was that?
PK: In 1937 they bought it. Nineteen thirty-eight was their first full year of operation. In 1935, Braniff Airlines started operating into the airport. That was couple of years before the city bought it.
LM: Braniff was operating when it was a private airport?
PK: Nineteen thirty-six, Houston started operating it. Houston bought out an old company called Weddle Williams Airline which ran from Houston and New Orleans. They bought that out and started operating Eastern Airlines in 1936. Of course, the airlines, when they come in, they start asking the cities for better facilities to accommodate the airplanes. If you want better service, we need better facilities, and that’s the way those planes get started. These citizens begin to look around for an airport that they could buy and have for the city’s own airport. That’s one of the reasons it was purchased.
LM: If you had to look back over these years and someone asked what would you consider your most significant achievement out there, how would you rate it?
PK: The most significant achievement?
LM: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
PK: Well, one of the highlights of my 32 years out there was having a new terminal to move into that was adequate to serve the public’s need. After operating in this old terminal for so many years and being so crowded, and everywhere you turned, you were in somebody’s way or they were in your way, it was such a pleasant time to move into a terminal that you had all the facilities you needed to create with, plenty of them. You had something to offer the public that they were proud of, instead of coming into your terminal and being disgruntled and dissatisfied, complaining about this and complaining about that, which you couldn’t do anything about. You have certain facility there to operate with until you can get into the other, and that’s all you can do. For me personally, that was one of the high points of my career in airport management at Hobby Airport because I felt like we were doing something for the public, and we were, something that they were proud of, something that I was proud of, and the whole city was proud of. It’s still not a bad terminal.
LM: No, it isn’t.
PK: It’s still not a bad terminal.
LM: Well, I want to thank you for your participation in the oral history project.
PK: Oh, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, and I hope I’ve given you something that might be of benefit to you in your project.
LM: I’m sure you have.
PK: Of course, if I could sit down and go through all these notes and different papers and paraphernalia that I have, I could give you a lot more detail, but that would take too much of your time and too much of mine. That’s all on paper anyway, and I have some photographs that are interesting.
LM: Well, if ever you decide to clean out your closet, I hope you remember the archives at the public library.
PK: I’m glad to know that they have an archive division in the library.
LM: Yes, they do.
PK: I had the pleasure of going to Austin here recently and looking through the public archives over there, the state archives, which is a pretty nice experience just to go over there and look around and find out what they have. There are so many things they have.
[Tape ends] [1:12:28]