Dallas Mayor Laura Miller has scheduled a news conference for noon Thursday to announce a compromise on the Wright Amendment, as the cities and airlines put the finishing touches on the agreement Wednesday.
Sources close to the negotiations stressed that it has not yet been finalized. But several people close to all sides of the debate said it has reached the final stages of working out the details, and will likely be completed by late Wednesday or early Thursday.
The provisions of the agreement remain under wraps, but sources said Wednesday that they continue to include immediate through-ticketing from Dallas Love Field to destinations beyond the Wright Amendment zone; a 20-gate limit that would give Southwest Airlines 16 gates, American two and Continental Airlines two; and an eight-year moratorium on nonstop flights to distant cities.
The parties continue to negotiate provisions including restrictions on future passenger service at Alliance and Meacham airports in Fort Worth. One proposal being discussed would require Southwest to give up gates at Love if it wanted to add service at either of those airports, according to several sources close to the deal.
Dallas council members had been scheduled to vote on a proposed agreement Wednesday on Wright, but that vote had to be postponed when a deal was not completed.
Miller and Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief agreed to a compromise late Tuesday, according to several sources who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks. Details remained fluid.
The ban on long-haul flights, which had been nine years, was shortened to eight at Southwest's request, according to one source close to the talks.
All the parties negotiated until about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, one source said, and continued to work through the day.
Sources indicated that the Thursday news conference will likely include executives from both airlines as well as the two mayors. American CEOs Gerard Arpey and Gary Kelly were in New York Wednesday meeting with Wall Street analysts but both planned to return Wednesday night.
The Wright Amendment, a 1979 federal law, restricts flights from Love to Texas and a handful of nearby states. Southwest, which has headquarters in Dallas and operates at Love, has been lobbying since 2004 to have the law repealed. American, which is based in Fort Worth and operates a major hub at D/FW, has been fighting to keep the law intact.
Airline executives hunkered down Tuesday to analyze details of a proposed compromise which they learned in meeting with the mayors Monday. The details included the surprising revelation that the proposal would leave much of the law intact until 2015.
That news had American warming to some tenets of the proposal while Southwest found little to support.
The deal would allow immediate through-ticketing out of Love Field, by which travelers could buy tickets to faraway destinations that connect through a Wright state. But it also called for a nine-year moratorium on new flights from Love to distant cities.
The waiting period had previously been characterized by sources close to the deal as a "phase-in." Thus, many parties following the talks believed that long-haul flights to new cities and states would increase throughout the period.
Southwest executives were "stunned" to learn the waiting period did not include a gradual phaseout of the restrictions, sources with the airline said Tuesday.
"This isn't a phaseout; it's a cliff," one source, who asked not to be identified, said Tuesday. "We absolutely canâ't go to our employees, our customers, our supporters and say that's a good idea."
As details emerged, some supporters of repeal criticized the proposed compromise as too restrictive.
"It's not a compromise at all; it's just a big delay tactic," said Tony Page of Friends of Love Field, an anti-Wright group.
Some in Fort Worth criticized the negotiations, which have been held behind closed doors, because they did not include public debate.
"The Fort Worth way is to have citizen input," City Councilman Donavan Wheatfall said during a Tuesday meeting.
Friends of Love Field, a neighborhood group that is pushing for immediate repeal of the Wright Amendment, also expressed concern about the closed-door meetings on the Wright Amendment.
The Love Field master plan was drafted in 2001 with the help of more than 50 people, including local residents and council members, said William Foster, a member of Friends of Love Field.
"Now, we feel it's incredibly arrogant that two people from Dallas and Fort Worth are coming together and saying that the decades of disagreement that were put together in 2001 by over 50 unanimous decisions are inferior to their judgment and theyâ??re going forward without our input," Foster told Dallas council members Wednesday.
He also raised objections with the city's expressed interest in shutting down the former Legend Airlines terminal to commercial airline traffic.
"It is a money-making airport," he said of Love Field. "We're killing the golden calf. If you have a golden calf, you don't take one leg at a time and eat it until the calf is gone."
Moncrief also disclosed in the pre-Fort Worth council meeting why the city was looking at hiring the Los Angeles law firm O'Melveny & Myers.
The firm, experienced in aviation matters, would give Fort Worth much-needed expertise on federal aviation rules and regulations.
"We're kind of at the ground level," Moncrief said.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she would fight to get the mayors' package through Congress. Hutchison sparked the negotiations earlier this year.
"If it's a balanced plan, I would certainly go forward to try to keep it from having any incursions, and if there were changes, I would consult with both cities," she said.
Stop-and-Think, the neighborhood group that supports keeping the Wright Amendment, said it hopes more of the talks can be brought into public light.
"We would just like to have some kind of validation to what we're hearing" in media reports, said Jay Pritchard, executive director of the non-profit group that received at least $1 million from American Airlines. "The numbers are changing, it seems like on an hourly basis. ... We would just like to know what's being negotiated and what's on the table."
Pritchard said although two weeks doesn't seem like a lot of time to talk about the points of a deal, he's pleased to see that Miller "has not really pushed this deadline" her council set that expires Wednesday.
Maria Recio contributed to this report.
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