There's a lot more to creating a bilingual wayfinding program than painting entrance/entrada and exit/salida on a couple of signboards. Even though William P. Hobby Airport, the older and by far the smaller of the Houston Airport System's two air carrier facilities, has no scheduled international service, it has many Hispanic and Hispanic-American customers and is the city's principal corporate and general aviation airport, hosting arrivals from Latin America. Houston is the largest city in Texas and a diversified, multicultural community, explains Hobby Manager Meg Lonero. The area's population includes people whose roots go back to Mexico, Central and South America, even to Spain.

The city's Bush Intercontinental Airport has worldwide service so uses dynamic signage that can display any language needed at any time. But at Hobby, Lonero says, "most of our non-English-speaking passengers speak Spanish," so in the mid-1990s the airport went to an English-Spanish signage program.

When airport system executives asked some of their own Spanish-speaking staffers to translate the existing English signs into Spanish, "our own employees couldn't agree" on the wording, Lonero recalls. "People from different Spanish-speaking countries had different ideas about how the signs should read. We had a little debate in the office. You should have heard that meeting!"

So the airport department hired a Mexico City-based consultant "and let him decide. We call it the Mexico City Plan." The consultant produced translations for notices ranging from agriculture (agricultura) to watch your step (cuidado con su paso) as well as wording for signs in the federal clearance area and on flight information displays.

Right now, Hobby is using bilingual signage only for wayfinding. Many other signs still are English--only because they are so small but, "we will replace these English-only signs as we continue with capital projects," Lonero promises.

Southwest Airlines, Hobby's principal carrier, uses English and Spanish on the signs in its ticketing area. Station Manager Rudy Lopez says, "The number of Hispanic passengers on Southwest is increasing and we're paying much more attention to them. We have a multicultural department" in the airline's management structure.

The airport also is adding pictograms to some of its signs, including those for passenger services such as ATM and fax machines and the shoeshine stand (a brush poised over a shoe).

Southwest carries more than 80% of Hobby's traffic. Six other scheduled airlines serve the airport. The site has been a public airport since 1937, when the city took over a private airfield. Seven miles from downtown Houston, Hobby has four runways, the longest 7,600 ft., on its 1,490-acre site. It will serve some 8 million passengers this year, nearly 7% more than the 2003 total. Although there is no scheduled international service, the terminal has a clearance area and inspectors are available by reservation, Senior Project Manager Bill White explains.

Typical of the era in which it was built, Hobby was laid out with its runways in an X pattern on a compact rectangular airfield. After Bush Intercontinental opened in 1969, Hobby lost all its scheduled service until Southwest made it one of its three initial stations in 1971. After US airlines were deregulated in 1978, Hobby's popularity grew and the city has been improving its facilities ever since.

Now a major terminal modernization program is underway. The old, cramped three-concourse facility is being replaced section by section. "It has been very difficult phasing in the expansion program," Lonero says, "because we're building the new over the old and we have to keep everybody operating. That's why it's taking so long."

The new Y-shaped central concourse is now operating, providing bright, spacious facilities for passengers and concessionaires. The old A and B wings will be replaced with a new East Concourse, and a West Concourse can be built as traffic grows, probably "in 20 years or so," Lonero thinks. The airport will have 36 gates--including four added at Southwest's request after the basic design was completed--when the current expansion is finished. Today, four airlines share five gates on the old C Concourse, which will be demolished because it blocks some of the new gates on the central building.

There is no room for major airfield expansion but the modernization is adding ramp space and taxiways, and a Cat III approach is scheduled to go into service next October. The general aviation runway could be widened and lengthened to 7,600 ft. if necessary, Lonero says. The city will need to buy only "little bits of land" for these projects.

New parking garages will add some 7,800 spaces to the 4,055 now available on the airport, and approach and terminal roads will be improved. Eventually, White says, the airport property will cover 1,920 acres.

In the airport lobby, a huge high-ceilinged sunlit space has been created for Southwest's ticketing and check-in services. This leads to a wide multilane security plaza, which eventually will become Hobby's only checkpoint. Now some of Southwest's connecting passengers have to re-clear security if they go from one concourse to another.

The rest of the landside space "is still a 1950s terminal," Lonero notes. "We're going to bring it into the 21st century" while preserving some of the old lobby's distinctive design. More concessions will be provided, but she promises that local favorites will continue to serve hobby's customers.

Lopez is happy with Southwest's new facilities and looks forward to having his entire operation in the same concourse. Now, he says, "65% of our passengers go out of the central concourse," where the airline uses 10 gates, but it still must use five of the old, crowded a gates. Ranked as a Southwest "megastation" with 26 nonstop destinations, Hobby has 139 daily flights from those 15 gates. Some 25% of the airline's Hobby passengers transfer. When the expansion is finished, Lopez says, he will have 24 gates, providing plenty of room for growth.

He notes that the terminal project has made his costs "a little higher than normal." But, he adds, "the airport and our property people are working closely together to reduce costs." Even though its terminal modernization is not yet complete, Hobby "is a very convenient, user-friendly airport," Lopez says. "Passengers can move through it pain-free."

Cutting-edge signage

Among the attention-catching signage exhibits at ACI-NA's annual conference was Innovative Electronic Designs' Multiple User Flight Information System Display System (MUFIDS) product, which can present photographic, tabular and graphic displays in full color and can be customized with pull-down menus. It can be integrated with the 500ACS announcement control system for a combined audio-visual information system. The company is located in Louisville, Ky.

Clarity Visual Systems of Wilsonville, Ore., showed its direct-view LCD and rear-projection displays including the 46-in. Bay Cat direct-view LCD, which the company says combines ultra-high resolution and unparalleled image quality for a wide range of digital and other applications. The flat panel is less than 4 in. thick.

A 94-ft.-long full-color LED video display has been installed in British Airways' terminal at JFK International in New York, Daktronics Inc. told visitors to its ACI-NA booth. The panels are used for information, advertising and special messages. The company is in Brookings, S.D.