Omahans Fight Dallas Airfare Law

Lance Brauer was hoping to hear debate Tuesday morning about restrictions on air service between Omaha and Dallas.

He didn't know American and Southwest Airlines had canceled their presentations, which were to take place at the regular monthly meeting of the Omaha Airport Authority board of directors.

American said Monday that it canceled in order to put its resources toward talks on the issue in Dallas. Southwest, which had planned to react to American's presentation, canceled, as well.

"I'm disappointed," Brauer told the board during Tuesday's meeting at Eppley Airfield, "even though I knew nothing would be resolved today."

He said he attended to express support for changing a decades-old federal law known as the Wright Amendment. It prohibits flights between Dallas Love Field and most states, including Nebraska.

American Airlines, which provides nonstop flights between Omaha and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, opposes changes to the law. Southwest Airlines, which is based at Love Field, renewed efforts in 2004 to repeal the amendment.

The law was created to protect then-new DFW, which since has grown into one of the world's busiest airports.

Missouri recently received an exemption from the restrictions through an amendment to a transportation bill that passed last fall. Because of that, fares between Kansas City and Dallas are lower than those between Omaha and Dallas.

Brauer, of Omaha, told board members that he drove to Kansas City recently to catch a less expensive flight to Dallas. That's something Eppley Executive Director Don Smithey fears many Omaha passengers will do, he told board members.

Smithey said research by his staff indicated that the difference in airfare to Dallas could be nearly $700 more per trip to fly from Omaha than from Kansas City, depending on the day and time of travel and how far ahead tickets are booked.

Multiplied by the average number of passengers who make the trip every year, the difference could exceed $28 million, Smithey said.

Passengers have called and written to support changing the law, he said.

If Congress doesn't act by late summer, Smithey said, board members should consider urging Nebraska's congressional delegation to push for an exemption.

"I think you'll see a lot of states jumping in and trying to do it that way," he said.

American Airlines on Tuesday announced a new advertising campaign and organization called Stop and Think that will feature north Texas residents who are concerned about the effect of changes to the Wright Amendment on the area's economy and quality of life. The campaign includes an interactive Web site.

Smithey said during Tuesday's meeting that he disagrees with efforts to portray the debate as a north Texas issue.

"This is a national issue," he said. "This affects air service throughout the country."

After the meeting, Brauer said he would fly to Dallas more often to visit friends if airfares were lower.

He said he also would have an easier time convincing his friends to fly north instead of choosing another destination because of lower airfares.

"I tell people, 'Come on up to Omaha. Omaha is starting to really open up with a lot of activities.' They check the airfares, and they're not going to put out 400 bucks more to come to Omaha."

Airport Authority elects new officers

The Omaha Airport Authority board of directors elected new officers Tuesday.

P.J. Morgan was elected chairman of the five-member board Tuesday. Pat McNeil was elected vice chairman, and Howard Kooper was elected secretary-treasurer.

The authority operates Eppley Airfield and Millard Airport and generates revenue by fees charged to airlines and airport users. It does not levy taxes.

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