Wright Accord May Be Near: 9-Year Phase-Out Considered

The resolution would effectively force American to accept eventual repeal of the 1979 Wright law.


'Very long time'

A nine-year phase-out of the Wright amendment is too long, Mr. Hensarling said.

"My immediate reaction is that nine years is a very, very long time," he said.

Mr. Hensarling also questioned whether limiting the number of gates at Love Field would leave both Southwest and American with virtual monopolies at their respective airports, reducing air-fare competition.

"If you limit the number of gates too much, then ultimately you will not help consumers," he said.

American spokesman Roger Frizzell said Friday that the Fort Worth-based carrier could not comment because it had not seen an official proposal from Dallas. But he rebuffed the idea of American leaving its three gates at Love Field.

"I can't imagine seeing American moving out of Love Field under any circumstances, short of Wright remaining fully in place," Mr. Frizzell said. "At this point, it is only rumor and speculation, so there's no real need to address this issue, but I don't believe anyone should assume we would willingly move our operation and give up our best customers to Southwest."

Southwest spokeswoman Ginger Hardage said she was waiting to see more details from the mayors.

"It's difficult to comment on rumors," Ms. Hardage said. "But the fact that there is wide acceptance that the Wright amendment is going to be repealed is a victory. ... As always, the devil is in details."

Ironing out a deal

City officials offered tentative details on the terms of a possible agreement on Friday, saying that the 20-gate cap would limit Southwest Airlines to between 15 and 18 gates. Such an agreement would make it economically unfeasible for American, with its three existing gates at Love, to operate at the airport, they said.

Any remaining gates above the limit of 20 would be closed or demolished, the officials said.

But while they agreed that Dallas and Fort Worth are close to a resolution, city officials said talks over whether Fort Worth will agree to forgo passenger service at Alliance and Meacham airports are still tangled.

"We're very close to having it resolved," Dallas City Council member Ed Oakley said, declining to give specifics on the negotiations. "Part of the sticking point is the resolution of the airports that are in Fort Worth's purview."

Many other details of the possible compromise on Wright remained unclear Friday. City officials couldn't explain how the possible phase-out would work -- particularly which states would be exempted from Wright restrictions first and who would choose them. And they didn't indicate how gates at Love could be redistributed among airlines or whether new airlines would be allowed to come in.

Mr. Moncrief, speaking after a lengthy meeting with Ms. Miller on Friday, declined to comment on the negotiations, or on Meacham and Alliance airports.

Mr. Hensarling noted that any agreement by the two cities would only be a starting point for lawmakers on Capitol Hill. His remarks underscored the inevitable negotiation that would unfold between lawmakers on both sides of the issue in both the House and Senate.

"I would certainly entertain that plan as a basis for negotiations with my colleagues in Congress," Mr. Hensarling said. "This is a starting point, not an ending point."

Staff writer Robert Dodge in Washington contributed to this report.

E-mail eramshaw@dallasnews.com and smarta@dallasnews.com

WHAT A DEAL WOULD MEAN FOR FLIERS

Here are some specifics of the possible Wright amendment compromise under review by Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, according to officials who declined to be identified.

-- The Wright law would be phased out over nine years. That timeline would dampen the immediate impact on American Airlines' operation at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. It also would mean Southwest Airlines might have to wait until 2015 to serve its nationwide network with nonstop flights from Love Field.

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