- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

DALLAS — Two North Texas Republicans yesterday introduced legislation in the U.S. House to allow airline passengers to fly nonstop, nationwide, to and from Dallas Love Field — targeting a 25-year-old rule instituted to protect Dallas Fort Worth (D/FW) Airport.

“Airlines customers should have the freedom to fly where they want without unnecessary restrictions,” said Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, who along with Sam Johnson of Plano proposed the change.

“It is wrong for the federal government to play favorites between airlines or airports.”

Within hours four Tarrant County representatives ridiculed the Hensarling-Johnson effort to repeal the Wright Amendment (named for then House Majority Leader Jim Wright of Fort Worth), asserting that such a move would seriously harm the D/FW facility.

“Obviously we are very disappointed that two congressmen are going to put at risk the economic engine of North Texas and the jobs of more than 250,000 men and women that are tied to this airport, to benefit one company,” said Jeff Fegan, chief executive at D/FW.

Officials at American Airlines and D/FW Airport were livid at the prospect of allowing Southwest Airlines freedom to fly to and from major U.S. cities from Love Field.

When the special edict was passed in 1979, D/FW was a few years old and it was feared that growth at Love Field would financially harm the new airport’s future. Since then D/FW has grown to the third busiest and one of the most profitable airports in the world.

Southwest Airlines, the nation’s most profitable carrier, has operated heavily from Love Field — its corporate headquarters — but generally has not been allowed to fly nonstop nationwide.

In 1997, an amendment by Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby, a Republican, allowed flights between Love Field and airports in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

But until lately Southwest has not publicly endorsed repeal of the Wright Amendment. Last November, however, Southwest officials said they felt it was time to allow free enterprise to rule.

“It is not about one airline or one city,” said Mr. Johnson. “It is about helping our constituents. For a long time I have thought restrictions on Love Field have outlived their usefulness and I think people ought to have the freedom to fly wherever they want and whenever they want.”

Reps. Michael C. Burgess of Lewisville, Joe L. Barton of Ennis, Kenny Marchant of Carrollton and Kay Granger of Fort Worth, all Republicans, warned in Washington that the whole North Texas area would be severely hurt if D/FW Airport were adversely affected — which they said definitely would occur.

“Let’s talk about what’s important to the economy of Texas, the nation and certainly to the Metroplex — and let’s continue this agreement to make sure the growth occurs,” said Mrs. Granger, a former Fort Worth mayor.

Both Southwest and the American/DFW duo have increased spending on lobbyists, advertising, Web sites and economic studies.

One recent study, by the influential North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, strongly endorsed repeal of Wright — saying the result would be cheaper fares and more business.

Mr. Johnson said that report “nudged us over the edge.”

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