EDITORIAL: VIA deserves similar status as the other Valley airports

The airport in Harlingen is a true international facility, with airlines that serve destinations outside the continental United States, including Mexico and other counties farther away. It’s even in the name — ValleyInternationalAirport.

Except on federal government records. Even though several airlines that use the airport fly to Mexico and other foreign countries, it doesn’t have federal designation as a port of entry or international landing rights. That means the government doesn’t provide Customs and immigration offices and personnel to handle international passengers; VIA must pay for those assets if it needs them, and the airport either has to absorb them or pass them to its customers in the form of higher ticket and parking fees. This creates a competitive disadvantage for the airport against the Rio GrandeValley’s two other international airports in Brownsville and McAllen, which do enjoy that designation and services.

U.S. Rep. Vicente wants to erase that disadvantage with House Resolution 1804, the Honest Runway Labeling Act, which would designate certain airports located within 30 miles of the U.S. southern or northern border and meet other criteria.

Gonzalez’s effort makes sense, and we hope it’s successful.

Valley International’s limitation could hinder airlines’ ability to fully utilize a region that once was called the Gateway to the Americas. Most people flying from the Valley to other countries, including Mexico, first must fly north to Houston, Dallas or another international hub airport in order to reach their final destination.

“South Texas is growing at a rapid rate, and it is important that our airports and other transportation infrastructure keep up with increased demand for commercial travel as well as assisting with federal operations,” Gonzalez said in a statement announcing the proposed legislation.

Customs inspection also is needed to inspect freight shipments, which are a significant part of the business at all Valley airports. Without the international designation and federal services that go with it, VIA must pay for inspectors and related staff and infrastructure needed to do the job.

Harlingen’s central location, between Brownsville and McAllen, airline options that don’t serve other local airports and its proximity to South Padre Island also mak it a preferred destination for many people who come during Spring Break, Semana Santa and other specialized tourism periods.

The Valley’s regional transportation infrastructure and strategy should be comprehensive and favor the public in order to attract more visitors who can help the region as a whole, rather than be used to favor one or two businesses over their competition.

It’s good to see that Gonzalez, a McAllen resident whose district includes both the Brownsville and Harlingen airports, recognizes the need for regional thinking with regard to airport services. We trust other Valley lawmakers will agree, and work with him to raise congressional support for his effort to place all Valley airports on equal status.