Mar. 20--The battle over whether Dallas Love Field should be opened to more air traffic moves to Omaha Tuesday.
Two Dallas-based airlines with opposing interests -- American and Southwest -- will go nose to nose in presentations on the Wright Amendment, a 1979 federal law that prohibits nonstop flights between Love Field and all but a handful of states.
The Wright Amendment was created by Texas Sen. Jim Wright to protect then-new Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and initially allowed Love Field flights to serve only cities in Texas and surrounding states.
The presentations will take place during the regular monthly meeting of the Omaha Airport Authority board. The 9 a.m. meeting is open to the public and will take place in the board room on the second floor of the Eppley Airfield terminal.
American Airlines officials have been making Wright Amendment presentations throughout their network of cities, said spokesman Dave Jackson. Tuesday's visit was scheduled because Nebraska often is mentioned as a state that could be affected by changes in the law, he said.
"It seems to be a battleground state," Jackson said.
The Omaha Airport Authority board has urged Nebraska's congressional delegation to push for repeal, said Executive Director Don Smithey. Sen. Ben Nelson has said he would vote to repeal the law. The rest of the delegation is co-sponsoring legislation that would remove the restrictions.
The focus of Wright Amendment discussions shifted recently from the federal level to local government. The Dallas and Fort Worth City Councils passed joint resolutions asking that Congress delay action a few months while a local proposal is developed.
As one of the top 10 origin or destination cities for Eppley, air service to Dallas is critical, Smithey said, and competition likely would lower fares. American is the only carrier now providing nonstop flights from Omaha to Dallas.
Other carriers provide connecting service from Omaha to DFW, but the Wright Amendment prohibits through ticketing and baggage service for connecting service to Love Field.
Smithey said research by his staff indicates passengers pay hundreds of dollars more per ticket to fly nonstop from Omaha to Dallas than if they flew from Kansas City, Mo., where American and Southwest both provide nonstop flights.
"It's very important to the citizens of Omaha to have the same opportunity to select the fares that they choose, not what Congress is mandating," he said. "We are in a deregulated industry. Let's let the free market determine the level of fares as is done in every other market in the United States."
Over the years, amendments have exempted other states, including Missouri just last year. In December, after the Missouri exemption took effect, Southwest established nonstop flights between Love Field and St. Louis and Kansas City. American followed by re-establishing operations March 1 at Love Field to serve those cities.
The move was a reluctant one, Jackson said, because American's business model is based on the hub-and-spoke system. Shifting aircraft away from the DFW hub to provide flights at Love Field cuts into the number of DFW flights and reduces air service to smaller cities, he said.
American, the nation's largest airline in terms of revenue per passenger mile, moved its corporate headquarters to Dallas in 1979.
"Airline competition is good, and airport competition is bad," he said. "If the Wright Amendment is relaxed, we will have to compete at Love Field, and we'll have to reduce flights at DFW. . . . It's something we will be forced to do."
Southwest could have the competition it seeks, he said, by moving operations to DFW, an airport that was designed to serve as the Dallas-Fort Worth area's only airport.
"The Wright Amendment was the compromise," he said. "We think that the Wright Amendment should stay exactly as it is."
The three flights still will stop in St. Louis, but passengers will continue on the same plane.
The Bush administration has not taken a position on whether the law should be repealed, Mineta said, and Congress must decide whether to change it.
American Airlines, which provides nonstop flights between Omaha and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, opposes changes to the law.
Airports across the nation are joining the debate. Some are arguing that repeal will add flights, but others fear losing service to hubs.