JetBlue Urges FAA to Block Wright Deal

JetBlue Airways Corp. founder David Neeleman said Thursday that he has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to block the Wright amendment compromise or pull federal funding from Dallas Love Field.

JetBlue supported Southwest Airlines Co. efforts to repeal the Wright restrictions, Mr. Neeleman said. But the latest deal is unfair, he said.

"I don't think it's best for the traveling public going down to Dallas," said Mr. Neeleman, JetBlue's chief executive. "We'll make our position known. I can't imagine that any lawmaker would approve that."

Excluding competitors?

JetBlue is one of a handful of carriers not currently serving Love Field that have objected to the local agreement. And Thursday, the New York-based discounter took its opposition to Capitol Hill.

"The deal ... merely seeks to replace one outdated regulation with a series of anticompetitive provisions that eliminate competition and protect a few select carriers, while permanently destroying one-third of all of the gates at a vital airport in a major city, one that JetBlue wishes to serve if the Wright amendment is repealed," Mr. Neeleman wrote to the bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation Committee.

"It creates nothing more than an anticompetitive and discriminatory arrangement that protects two carriers by permanently excluding all competitors, ultimately at the expense of the traveling public in North Texas and across the nation," he added.

Other airlines objecting to the plan include Northwest Airlines Inc., as well as four discounters represented by the Air Carrier Association.

North Texas officials, along with executives at Southwest and American Airlines Inc., are lobbying lawmakers to pass federal legislation implementing the local agreement, which would lift restrictions on long-haul domestic flights at Love Field in 2014.

In the interim, passengers would be able to fly around the U.S. from Love as long as they first made a stop in one of the nine Wright states. The deal also would slash the number of available gates at Love to 20 from 32.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, who has stopped short of endorsing the plan, has asked the Department of Transportation to evaluate the economic benefits to consumers of the one-stop ticketing provision.

Mr. Hensarling asked for the data to determine whether he will support the plan and give up his fight for immediate repeal of the Wright amendment.

Still at work

Capitol Hill supporters have played down the significance of the opposition from the other airlines. And they continued working on proposed legislative language for a bill that would be introduced next month in the House and Senate.

A group of legislative staffers worked on details at a drafting session Wednesday.

As the deal progressed on Capitol Hill, the D/FW Airport Board approved a final version of the contract involving the airport, the two cities and the two airlines.

Since the deal was announced June 15, several changes in the contract would:

--Allow the airlines to write one-stop tickets to international destinations under the through-ticketing provision.

Airline officials said the provision was added at the request of Continental Airlines Inc. to preserve its existing ability to connect regional jet passengers from Love to international flights in Houston.

--Allow American to retain three gates at Love Field for four years. It would then transfer one of the gates to Southwest.

--Require airport users to pay for the acquisition and demolition of the gates at the terminal used by Legend Airlines.

Capitol Hill staff is awaiting word from the FAA to certify that flight operations would be safe with the addition of through ticketing and the eventual repeal of most flight restrictions.

FAA spokesman Geoff Basye declined to comment on how the agreement would affect operations at Love Field.

But a year ago, the FAA said the airspace around Love Field and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport could adequately handle any increased operations from the repeal of the Wright amendment.

The FAA said improved air traffic technology, as well as the reduction in operations from the elimination of Delta Air Lines Inc.'s D/FW hub, make it possible to handle more flights.

But the FAA said that in a high-traffic environment, there could be slight delays in outbound flights from D/FW Airport during bad weather.

The FAA's input into the legislation was requested by Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the transportation committee. Mr. Oberstar has been a longtime opponent of repealing the Wright amendment because of safety concerns.

Operations at Love also would be limited by the 20-gate cap in the agreement. But that cap is at the heart of complaints by other airlines.

'Denying access'

"You're destroying gates and denying access to airlines that would like to serve there," said Mr. Neeleman, whose discount carrier wants two gates at Love, if the Wright restrictions are removed.

Taxpayer money funds the airport, he said.

"I don't think the FAA should give their money to the airport," he said. "They should withdraw their support."

Supporters of the local agreement say JetBlue is free to serve North Texas from D/FW or Love Field. At Love, though, other carriers would be forced to make room for JetBlue under gate-sharing provisions.

Lawmakers said FAA officials will be asked to testify at a July 12 hearing on the agreement. Others invited to testify include the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth, the chief executives of American and Southwest and lawmakers from North Texas.

Mr. Neeleman was in Washington to receive an airline satisfaction award from J.D. Power and Associates. JetBlue received the top ranking among low-cost carriers in the survey.

Love Field and Houston's William P. Hobby Airport tied for the highest ranking in the customer satisfaction survey for the best small airports.



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