- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2005

DALLAS — A renewed battle over air passengers’ right to fly nonstop from Dallas Love Field to many U.S. cities is looming in Congress.

An unusual situation — in which those using Love Field can fly nonstop only to cities in states immediately adjacent to Texas — arose as “protection” against the solvency of Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport back in 1979.

It was known as the Wright Amendment and was guided through Congress by House Majority Leader Jim Wright of Fort Worth.

A few weeks ago, Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, said he would offer an anti-Wright Amendment bill to help his constituents obtain cheaper airfare to the Dallas area.

Both senators from Texas — Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn — said they “leaned” toward the status quo but plan to keep open minds.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and locally owned Braniff Airways, which is now defunct, benefited from the Wright Amendment from the beginning. American went on to dominate DFW International Airport as the facility grew into one of the world’s busiest airports.

Southwest Airlines, the main Love Field operator, was a small company when the amendment took effect and was content to fly to cities in neighboring states.

But times have changed.

Southwest gradually moved into other markets and has become the most profitable airline in the nation; however, it still can’t fly nonstop into or out of Love Field to 90 percent of its destinations.

In November, Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said his company would lobby for a change.

“The Wright Amendment is protectionist, anti-competitive and anti-consumer,” Mr. Kelly said. “It’s time for a change.”

DFW, American Airlines and others strongly oppose that. Such a change would seriously affect DFW International Airport’s financial viability, they claim.

The airport suffered a major setback a few months ago when Delta ended more than 90 percent of its service from there in an attempt to restructure.

American, which teeters on the brink of bankruptcy after a series of multimillion-dollar quarterly losses, argues it is crippled by increased fuel and other operating costs. Its corporate outfit, AMR Corp., announced it had lost $162 million for the first quarter of 2005.

In the past, a few legislators unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation allowing nonstop flights to and from Love Field.

In 1997, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, pushed a change to the Wright Amendment allowing Southwest to fly nonstop to his state. Before final passage of the Shelby amendment, Mississippi and Kansas were added. In 2004, Tennessee’s U.S. House delegation introduced a similar measure to allow nonstop service between that state and Love Field.

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