- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

DALLAS — The long-standing rivalry between fliers whose loyalties reside either with Dallas or Fort Worth is taking wing.

On one side is Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), second busiest in the United States. In its corner is Fort Worth and American Airlines, the nation’s largest airline.

On the other side is Dallas and its Love Field, backed by Southwest Airlines, the most profitable U.S. airline, and a host of travelers who want to fly from the area easier and cheaper.

Because of several bills already working through Congress and an increasing interest from other states, city councils in both Dallas and Forth Worth recently passed resolutions asking that Congress lay off and let the local leaders decide the fate of the 25-year-old Wright Amendment.

That law, pushed by the then-powerful House leader Jim Wright of Fort Worth, allows only non-stop flights from and into Love Field to only a handful of states, near Texas.

The reasoning for the unusual ban — and it was agreed to at the time by leaders in both Fort Worth and Dallas — was that the huge new regional airport, DFW, which opened in 1973, could not financially stand the competition of heavy traffic from another airport that close (Love Field is but 18 miles east of DFW).

So for a quarter of a century, travelers from here who wanted a non-stop to Washington, Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Seattle or Miami usually had to fly American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Continental Airlines or United Airlines out of DFW. Or they had to stop and be re-ticketed if they flew Southwest out of Love Field.

Most flyers moving between Dallas and Houston, Austin, Texas, San Antonio, Tulsa, Okla., Little Rock, Ark., or New Orleans gravitated to Southwest. Non-stop, usually on time and little hassle.

As the years went by and costs — fuel, personnel, maintenance etc. — skyrocketed, some airlines either entered bankruptcy or scaled back their operations drastically, allowing American to gain complete domination at DFW. Over at Love Field, Southwest concentrated on expanding to several more states.

Southwest couldn’t go non-stop between Dallas and many of its new route partners, but they could get there — and almost always cheaper — if passengers stopped first in Houston, Austin, Tulsa or San Antonio.

Many complained about the Wright Amendment, but nobody wanted to take on AMR Corp., American’s powerful corporate entity. And American was adamant that the law should remain on the books. “A deal’s a deal,” was often heard.

What confuses the issue further is that the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth operate DFW and taxpayers are liable for the millions in bonds issued there.

In other words, if DFW, one of the most profitable airports in the U.S., went belly-up, taxpayers all over North Texas would have to bail it out.

Expensive and creative economic studies aside, most realize that DFW is not in financial straits — and probably never will be. It has thousands of acres for expansion, if needed. Love Field is virtually locked in, with nowhere to expand.

Both American and Southwest are spending tons, hiring specialists, lobbyists and innovative admen to help make their case.

Politicians generally have disagreed on whether Wright should stay, be removed, or somewhat altered. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, has met with both sides and helped promote the attempt to get the cities to agree on a workable plan.

Fearful that “outsiders” — lawmakers in several other states who are vitally interested — might make the decisions for them, city councils in Fort Worth and Dallas agreed to try to work out a solution.

Fort Worth set a deadline of Aug. 1 to make its recommendations. Dallas settled on June 14. Mayors of both cities promised to work together “for the good of the entire North Texas region.”

“That’s wonderful,” said one caller to a Dallas talk show recently. “Now they can hammer out an agreement that’s fair to all.”

The show host, relatively new in town, didn’t know to remind the caller of the history of cooperation (or non-cooperation) between leaders of these two cities.

In the 1960s, tired of spending millions in duplicate development for both Love Field and Fort Worth’s Greater Southwest International Airport (GSIA), the Federal Aviation Administration told the cities it would no longer pour funds into both airports, that the Texans had to come up with a real “regional” airport.

After weeks of hearings and months of squabbling, that’s how DFW Airport was born.

Fort Worth’s GSIA was phased out, but the government allowed Love Field to remain in operation — probably never dreaming that the fledgling airline, Southwest, which owned less than a dozen planes at the time, would revitalize Love Field to its importance today.

Two best bets: Some kind of a regional airport authority will be formed, relieving the politicians (many of whom have said they don’t want to be involved) of the political risk. And the Wright Amendment will be revised — but not enough to satisfy either side completely.

In the old days (1950s and 1960s), when the two cities exuded downright hate for each other, Dallas’ leaders often refused to go to Fort Worth for any kind of a meeting and Fort Worth’s leading scion admitted he would go to Dallas occasionally.

“But I always take my lunch,” he growled. “I’m not going to help Dallas’ economy by a nickel.”

Some say those days are heading back.

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