President Bush signed a law Friday that will eventually eliminate restrictions on long-haul flights from Dallas Love Field, Texas officials said.
Though the limits won't be lifted until 2014, travelers will see an immediate effect. Southwest Airlines has said it would begin selling one-stop tickets - called through-ticketing - within days of the bill signing.
Southwest officials were waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to tell Congress that it can safely manage the air space over Love Field and nearby Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport under the new law. Southwest and rival American Airlines consider that a formality, because an FAA official testified that the agency could handle the job.
"We have to view Dallas with all new eyes," said Southwest spokeswoman Beth Harbin. "We'll be treating it like a new city. We don't know what the demand is going to look like without the Wright Amendment."
The 1979 law known as the Wright Amendment forced flights leaving Love Field to land in Texas or the four contiguous states. Restrictions were later lifted on four more states. The new law will repeal the Wright legislation after eight years and reduce the number of gates at Love Field from 32 to 20.
Love Field is one of Southwest's busiest airports, but the airline offers many more daily flights through Chicago Midway Airport, Las Vegas and Phoenix. All are candidates for one-stop service, a Southwest official said last week.
American, which has a big hub at DFW, expects to offer through-ticketing from Love Field to much of the country by way of St. Louis, said spokesman Tim Wagner. American is a unit of Fort Worth-based AMR Corp.
Neither airline would say how much they will charge for the new one-stop flights - by law, airlines can't signal pricing decisions to each other.
Tom Parsons, who tracks fares as editor of the travel Web site Bestfares.com, said Southwest will probably drive down fares from Dallas to the West Coast by 30 percent or more.
Parsons said American currently charges $358 to $398 for most of its 14-day and 21-day advance-purchase tickets - the kind bought by vacationers.
"All those fares will probably come down to $178 to $218 when Southwest comes out with its initial sale," Parsons said. He said business travelers would also benefit, because Dallas-based Southwest has a lower cap on last-minute fares, $319, and American will have to match that on routes where it competes with the low-cost carrier.
American will be able to charge $20 to $30 more for nonstop flights from DFW Airport than Southwest charges for a one-stop trip, Parsons said.
Bush's signing of the bill, done without ceremony, caps two years of intense lobbying and negotiations involving AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and Southwest Airlines Co.; the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth; Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; and Dallas Love Field.
"It has been a long process, but North Texas consumers will benefit from more competition and significantly reduced airfares," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who sponsored the bill, said in a news release.
Airline stocks fell Friday as the price of oil rose. Shares of AMR fell 94 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $24.95, and Southwest shares dropped 34 cents, or 2 percent, to $16.44 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
AP Business Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.
The bill is S. 3661
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The move is virtually certain to trigger a fierce fight between neighboring airlines -- Southwest, the most profitable U.S. carrier, and American Airlines, the nation's biggest.
Southwest's the ticket on next-day trips, but AA has advance advantage.
The resolution would effectively force American to accept eventual repeal of the 1979 Wright law.
Opposition largely focuses on the eight-year wait before the amendment is completely lifted.