Dispute Continues to Snowball: Minnesota Tosses Out Ideas on Love Field Restrictions

Though it would be hard to match the passion of North Texans in the fight over the Wright amendment, some Minnesotans have their own ideas on repealing the 1979 law.

But spokeswoman Chani Wiggins explains the issue came up during a brainstorming session with the newspaper's staff.

She said the senator has not been lobbied by Southwest. But she said he has thought about the issue, and backing repeal of the Wright amendment would come with conditions.

"Mark would not support repeal ... without some sort of compensation or flights for Minnesota's smaller communities," Ms. Wiggins said.

Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Rochester wants no part in the Wright debate and said there is no campaign by lawmakers in Minnesota to bid for Southwest flights.

Like Mr. Oberstar, he counts himself among American's supporters in opposing repeal, even though the carrier dropped regional jet service between Rochester and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport earlier this month.

American's regional partner subsequently added a sixth daily flight to Chicago.

Mr. Gutknecht emphasizes that he would like to see Minnesota and other states left out of the debate: "Ultimately, this is a Texas issue. I am a little bit hesitant for people in Michigan or Minnesota to try and resolve this for the people of Texas."

That sentiment is shared by the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth, who have asked Congress to delay action until the two cities can hammer out a compromise.

They are mindful that airports elsewhere are taking notice and lobbying their congressional delegations. After all, Missouri was added to the states where flights are permissible by a senator - Christopher "Kit" Bond - who was representing local interests.

More voices

Even Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has weighed in.

"In a deregulated industry, you wonder whether the Wright amendment hasn't passed its time," Mr. Mineta said last month during a visit to Omaha, Neb.

Mr. Mineta later said that his remarks reflected a personal view and that the Bush administration has no position on repealing the Wright amendment.

"It should be left up to Congress," Mr. Mineta recently told The Dallas Morning News.

Among airport officials closely following the debate is William Wren, who is responsible for recruiting airlines to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Mr. Wren predicts Southwest will come to Minneapolis eventually - even if it has to go toe-to-toe against a hometown carrier that carries 80 percent of the airport's nearly 38 million passengers annually.

Southwest has taken on established carriers before, such as its recent surprise entry into Denver, where it is competing directly with United Airlines Inc.

Southwest officials have thoroughly studied the Minneapolis airport, monitoring the development of a new runaway, watching construction of a terminal and tracking how long it takes to get to the airport from various points in a metropolitan area that is home to 2.9 million people.

"They have come up here and measured everything, you bet they have," said Mr. Wren, who said the meetings occur about twice a year. "And they have done it on more than one occasion."

Even so, Southwest officials still remember when they challenged Northwest at its big hub in Detroit, and price slashing drove fares down to $9.

With that in mind, the airline might bide its time, watching for an opportune moment, such as a possible strike by Northwest's pilots.

"We go to a city to be a successful operation," said Southwest spokesman Ed Stewart. "When you start service on Monday, you expect to be profitable by Tuesday."

E-mail rdodge@dallasnews.com

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