- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

DALLAS — Fort Worth and Dallas, at odds for more than a generation over an unusual congressional measure that limited long-range airline flights from Dallas Love Field, yesterday announced an agreement to allow passengers to fly nonstop from Love to many more U.S. cities.

Both Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief called the agreement “historic.”

American Airlines, whose hub is at Dallas/Fort Worth and is the biggest U.S. air carrier, and Southwest Airlines, the fifth-largest airline, have been battling for more than a quarter-century since the Wright Amendment, named after former House Speaker Jim Wright, was enacted in 1979.

At the time, D/FW Airport was a few years old and Southwest Airlines was a feisty newcomer at Love Field with fewer than two dozen planes, but gaining momentum.

The Wright Amendment was created to protect the investment that the government and several north Texas cities had made in the fledgling D/FW. It mandated that Southwest could fly nonstop flights only to Texas’ border states.

If a Southwest passenger wanted to fly from Love Field to San Francisco, Washington or Miami, he had to do a “two-step,” buy a ticket to a city in a state adjoining Texas, then a second one to his destination city. Bags had to be rechecked as well.

Yesterday’s agreement would phase out the Wright Amendment in eight years, but in the meantime advocates immediate implementation of “through ticketing” at Love — eliminating the need for re-ticketing and re-checking of bags for long flights.

The deal would restrict the number of flights from Love Field — a nagging concern of homeowners and businesses near the close-in Dallas airport, who said long-range travel would increase traffic congestion, noise and air pollution.

The agreement would cap the number of gates at Love. By 2010 Southwest would be allowed 16 gates, American Airlines two and Continental Airlines two. Currently there are 32, but many have been used by Southwest for training and have not been operational. A small number of others, operated in the 1990s by Legend Airlines, which went bankrupt, will be razed.

The pact includes a $150 million-to-$200 million renovation before 2010 and a noise curfew.

The agreement, ironed out over several weeks with politicians and business leaders, must be approved in Congress.

Both Herb Kelleher, Southwest chairman, and Dan Garton, American’s vice president of marketing, praised the effort at a D/FW press conference and vowed to work with congressional leaders. Both airlines have spent millions in lobbying costs and advertising.

“All sides, all parties have been compelled to make sacrifices,” Mr. Kelleher said. “The only surefire winner from this agreement is the public.” As he left the podium, he said: “There surely must be hope for world peace.”

Both Texas senators, Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, have met with and advised the local leaders.

Mr. Cornyn said he was leaning toward supporting the deal.

“Local solutions to local problems are always better than ones dictated out of Washington,” he said. “I would always support a negotiated resolution.”

Some members of Congress were cool to the plan, however.

Republican Rep. Joe Barton, whose district includes D/FW, said yesterday the Wright Amendment should be kept.

Mr. Barton has been the strongest foe of changing the regulations. He vowed earlier this year to do “whatever it takes” to stymie those who want to lift the restrictions.

Mr. Barton said he would study the new proposal, but added, “You’ve got to prove to me that it’s at least equal to or better than the existing Wright Amendment, which I think is good public policy that served the nation well for almost three decades.”

Republican Rep. Sam Johnson, who co-sponsored a bill to repeal the Wright Amendment, said he would study the new compromise, but wasn’t sure he would withdraw his bill.

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