Congressional Panels Approve Wright Amendment Compromise

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the measure with no objections.

Senate and House committees today approved a legislative compromise that would end the Wright Amendment flight restrictions at Dallas Love Field as a House committee took up a similar bill.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the compromise legislation by a vote of 21-1, with the only dissenting vote coming from the panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

After the vote, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she would continue to try and win Rockefeller's support so she could seek to bring the bill to the full Senate by unanimous consent.

While the bill introduced in the House does not have identical language, "we're on a dual track," Hutchison said.

In the House, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the measure on a voice vote, with no discussion or objections.

The Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006 (HR5830) was introduced by the committee's chairman, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, with many co-sponsors including Reps. James Oberstar, D-Minn.; John Mica, R-Fla.; Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas; Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell; Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth; Joe Barton, R-Arlington; Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville; Chet Edwards, D-Waco; Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall; Sam Johnson, R-Plano; Pete Sessions, R-Dallas; and Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler.

The local deal would repeal the Wright Amendment after eight years, allow immediate connecting and one-stop ticketing from Love, and cap the airport's size at 20 gates from the current 32, in part by having the city of Dallas acquire the Legend terminal, by condemnation if necessary, and close its six gates.

The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, American and Southwest airlines and D/FW Airport reached the agreement after a lengthy campaign by Southwest and its supporters, who argued that the Wright Amendment hampers competition in the North Texas airline market and keeps fares from North Texas artificially high. Congress passed the Wright Amendment in the late 1970s to protect D/FW Airport from competition at Love.

Dual bills in the Senate and House would put into federal law the key components of the local agreement, and President Bush would have to sign the bill for it to become law.

Rockefeller called the bill a "bad precedent" and objected to pressure from North Texas that Congress not make changes to the compromise.

"Unfortunately, the local stakeholders have bound Sen. Hutchison's hands with an all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it bill by demanding that Congress act to codify this agreement by the end of the year, knowing full well how very few legislative days remain in this Congress," he said. "This committee is being forced to consider, on very short notice, a bill that will have significant consequences for U.S. aviation policy in an effort to satisfy a limited but very vocal number of affected parties."

Rockefeller said the North Texas deal raises safety concerns and will encourage other communities to consider placing limits on their airports.

"Despite the purported uniqueness of the situation, I believe that this agreement will surely result in more communities coming to Congress to approve local decisions over airport usage that will limit capacity and air service options at even more airports," Rockefeller said.

U.S. Rep Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Young was lead co-sponsor of the House bill because "It was more than just a Texas issue. If it was perceived as just a Texas issue on the floor, it might get opposition. He stepped forward. It is a very good strategy."

Asked about roadblocks, Marchant said, "I don't see any. Some of the members feel that it's anticompetitive." ' but not enough to cause a problem. "It's not anticompetitive. The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth have both said if they [other airlines] want to come, they'll make a gate available."

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