Congress to Hear Testimony on Repeal of Wright Amendment

Identical bills to implement the agreement are set to be introduced as early as Thursday in the House and Senate.


Congress will get to witness a first Wednesday: Lawmakers will hear a historic request from the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth to repeal the Wright amendment.

The request will be supported by the region's two fiercely competitive airlines - American Airlines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. - and many North Texas members of Congress who have been split on the issue.

All this is expected to play out at a hearing on Capitol Hill before the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee.

The local compromise before the panel would lift restrictions on long-haul flights at Dallas Love Field after eight years. If the deal is passed into law, passengers would immediately be able to fly anywhere in the U.S. from Love, as long as they first stopped in one of the nine Wright states.

The session follows a high-profile visit in late June by a North Texas entourage that lobbied House and Senate leaders to support the proposal.

"This hearing is an opportunity for the stakeholders to share their positions with lawmakers who have jurisdiction over the issue," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the ringleader among the House members from North Texas.

The hearing will give rank-and-file lawmakers a chance to quiz the Texans on their plan, as well as raise any concerns: Chief among those is the limited gate space available for entrant airlines at Love Field and safety issues that might be raised by new flights at the close-in airport.

"That is what the whole hearing is about - all these issues," said Robert Land, chief lobbyist for JetBlue Airways Corp. "We are looking forward to the committee having a good, thorough debate about all these issues."

Identical bills to implement the agreement are set to be introduced as early as Thursday in the House and Senate. North Texas lawmakers hope the bill can be enacted before Congress' scheduled adjournment in early October.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is expected to introduce the bill in the Senate. The House version would be sponsored by Barton, along with Rep. Kay Granger, a fellow Republican, Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson and other as yet undetermined members.

Legislative aides were still working on the draft Tuesday.

But a copy obtained by The Dallas Morning News reveals it will be a simple proposal of about 2 pages, allowing for immediate through-ticketing and lifting Wright eight years from the date of enactment.

The bill also would cap the number of gates at Love Field at 20, as prescribed in the agreement between the cities and the airlines. But it would leave to the city of Dallas the right to allocate those gates among airlines.

Placing that gate cap into federal law could draw opposition from some members who do not want Congress managing local airports. Chief among those is Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who sponsored a bill with Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, to fully repeal the 1979 Wright law.

"I am trying to get Congress out of the business of choosing winners and losers in airports," he said.

The proposal also contains language preventing Love Field from becoming an international gateway and provisions allowing for the operation of charter flights.

Still missing from the draft is possible language regarding air safety. Some congressional aides expect a clause that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to sign off on the safety of the plan.

Officials from airlines critical of the compromise, such as JetBlue and Northwest Airlines Inc., will not testify at the hearing. Land said JetBlue, which favors full repeal of Wright, is submitting written testimony to the panel.

The witness list does include Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief. They will be joined at the witness table by Gerard Arpey, American's chief executive; Southwest chairman Herb Kelleher; and Kevin Cox, chief operating officer of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

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