DALLAS — On October 13, 2006 the Wright Amendment Reform Act was established to achieve a compromise agreement on the role that Love Field, located just miles from downtown Dallas, would play in the region’s air transportation system. It also cut restraints on airline operations, which in turn led to a 33 percent increase in Southwest Airlines enplanements, due to an expanded ability to connect passengers. But while other airports seek to add gates, Love Field is reducing its number from 32 to 20. As enplanements rise and gates decrease, the challenge today is to reconstruct the main terminal amid ongoing operations, and to build a people mover system that will connect Love passengers to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which skirts the airport fence. In time, passengers will be able to connect via train from Love Field to DFW International.
“It’s an expanded niche,” says Daniel T. Weber, A.A.E., director of aviation at Love Field, about the new role of the airfield in the Dallas-Ft. Worth region. “The Metroplex is extremely well served by DFW Airport. What Love Field is is Dallas’s neighborhood airport.
“The big challenge is developing the Love Field Modernization Program and the people mover. We have a staff that’s seasoned. The challenge is, we have to reinvent the airport to convert it from a very region-specific niche market to a facility that serves a nationwide market.”
The airport, which has an annual budget of $42 million, according to Weber, was constructed in 1917 and is land-locked. It has a history of a strong general aviation component, and in fact GA operations (98,000) surpass commercial airline activity (91,000). There are seven fixed base operators, and Gulfstream and Bombardier have completions centers here.
But it’s the Wright agreement that is directing the focus of Weber’s staff. [The Wright Amendment, named for former U.S. House Representative Jim Wright, was put in place to restrict air carrier operations to contiguous states. It was enacted to placate carriers who had moved to the then-new DFW with the understanding that air carrier operations would not return to either Love Field or Ft. Worth’s Meacham Field.]
Comments Weber, “It’s had an impact on the airport — all positive. Almost immediately, Southwest added new destinations from Love Field; through-ticketing was permitted, and that enabled them to add connecting destinations. In March they did a totally restructured schedule and they added 41 new destinations. Enplanements for the fiscal year ending October 1  were up about 20 percent; but if you look at March ’07 to March ’08, we’re anticipating an additional one million enplanements through the airport.”
Meanwhile, the agreement has served to stabalize the operations of the airport’s other carriers, American and Continental, particularly American. “American adjusted their equipment into Love Field around March,” relates Weber. “They pulled out the MD-80 service and substituted it with American Eagle regional jets. They went down to about 105,000 enplanements for our fiscal ‘07, down from 139,000. That’s about a 25 percent decrease.
“While their enplanements are down, they’re now steady. They’ve probably reached a plateau with which they’re comfortable.”
The redevelopment plan
Love Field recently had its first passenger facility charge approved by FAA, and it is expected to generate some $38 million, according to Weber. Some $29 million of that is reimbursement money for past projects. Weber calls the money a down payment on the modernization program.
The redevelopment effort is being driven by the five-party agreement among the Cities of Dallas and Ft. Worth; Southwest; the DFW Airport Board; and American. Weber explains that the rebuild is mandated to be achieved in collaboration with Southwest. It is still in the early study stages.
The Love Field expansion for Fort Worth-based American will come at the expense of a reduced schedule at its largest hub, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
The owners of the Legend Airlines Terminal allege that the compromise violates antitrust law.
A consultant hired by Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport says an expansion of nearby Love Field would lead to reduced flights and millions fewer passengers each year at DFW.
The Omaha Airport Authority board has urged Nebraska's congressional delegation to push for repeal.