With fewer limits, Love Field is soaring: Opening the skies for Southwest has lowered fares for D-FW travelers, benefited both airports

Sep. 29--Both the supporters and opponents of proposals to open up Dallas Love Field said traffic would soar there if Congress were to loosen the restrictions on flights out of the airport. They were right. In the year since Congress allowed...


Sep. 29--Both the supporters and opponents of proposals to open up Dallas Love Field said traffic would soar there if Congress were to loosen the restrictions on flights out of the airport.

They were right. In the year since Congress allowed Love Field flights to go anywhere in the United States, the number of flights has risen 9 percent, while the number of passengers has gone up about 20 percent.

Meanwhile, as proponents had predicted, average airfares to many cities are down at both of Dallas-Fort Worth's major airports, in some cases by more than 20 percent.

Perhaps even more importantly, the expensive, contentious debate over what should be allowed at Love Field has lapsed into deafening silence. The compromise, reached after hard negotiations among airlines, cities, airports and lawmakers, ended more than a quarter-century of controversy.

"I think all of the sudden, that's an issue we're successfully putting behind us," said Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who entered office this year without the issue hanging over his head.

"Some people may be a little bit more happy and some a little bit less happy," he said. "But the reality of it is that everybody has moved on."

"I still marvel that the stars lined up the way they did," said Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, who was deeply involved in creating the 2006 compromise. "Divine intervention."

The neighborhood groups that feared a wide-open Love Field say that hasn't happened, that a limit on gates and a phase-in of long-distance flights have kept the number of jets flying over their homes to the dull roar they're used to.

A year ago, the neighborhood groups lauded the Wright compromise reached by local officials. Today, they say they're happy enough with the results.

"I think people have just made their peace with it," said Pat White, who lives in the Bluffview area north of Love Field and is a leader of the Love Field Citizens Action Committee.

Ms. White said the agreement to limit the city airport to 20 gates, instead of a planned peak of 32, addressed a critical concern that lifting restrictions would lead to too much traffic and noise.

"We sort of feel like we know what to expect now," she said.

Now, her group is focused on making sure that the plan to modernize Love Field, along with demolition of the excess gates, moves forward.

"There's still a lot of work to be done," said Rudy Longoria, a member of the citizens action committee who lives northwest of the airport. And although plans for Love Field seem to be moving slowly, "some progress is better than no progress at all," he said.

Highland Park resident Kay Neve, who helped found the neighborhood group Stop-and-Think, said she also has been happy with how things have turned out.

"I think competition is good to keep everybody honest, but not at the expense of safety and quality of life, and that was what was accomplished," Ms. Neve said.

Pushing for a deal

Since 1979, a federal law called the Wright amendment had placed limits on how far a Dallas Love Field ticket could take you. Originally, flights from Love Field could not travel beyond Texas and four adjoining states. In 1997 and 2005, Congress added four more states to the perimeter.

The intent was to protect the primacy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Officials at Southwest Airlines, the low-cost carrier that generally avoids big hub airports such as D/FW and is based at Love Field, had begrudgingly gone along with the original law. But they renounced their neutrality in November 2004 and began agitating for a repeal of the limits.

American Airlines, the city of Fort Worth and D/FW Airport lined up against any changes, on the basis that any expansion at Love Field would hurt D/FW, where American operates its biggest hub. Dallas was caught in the middle.

Finally, under pressure from the state's U.S. senators, the warring parties worked out a deal -- nonstop flights will be allowed from Love Field to all U.S. cities starting in 2014.

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