In upcoming talks on the future of the Wright Amendment, no party has more to lose than American Airlines. That fact weighs heavily on the company's executives as they craft their negotiating strategy.
The airline plans to participate fully in talks sponsored by Fort Worth and Dallas, according to several people familiar with the airline's strategy on the issue. Those discussions are expected to begin soon, although no dates have been scheduled.
American executives want to demonstrate that they are willing to work with local officials, despite the risk that sitting down at the bargaining table could speed the eventual loosening of the amendment.
"By cooperating, it's a sign of good faith," one source said. "Keep in mind, American could be throwing more attention to this, which isn't necessarily in the airline's best interest."
The sources, all of whom asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly for the airline, said American will approach the talks with several goals in mind, including:
Keeping Dallas Love Field as small as possible if flight restrictions are lifted. "The size of Love Field is a huge, huge issue," one source said.
Distributing gates equally among American, Southwest Airlines and any other interested carriers. That could be accomplished either by adding more gates, and possibly even a new terminal if the airport expands, or by forcing Southwest to give up some of its gates if Love shrinks.
Supporting a regional airport authority that would set equal landing fees at Love and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
An official spokesman for Fort Worth-based American declined to comment on the upcoming talks.
But the sources said the airline's executives first want to emphasize to local officials how badly the company could be hurt by repeal of the Wright Amendment, which limits most passenger flights from Love to Texas and several nearby states. American, North Texas' largest employer, has estimated it could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually if Love is opened to more long-distance flights.
American officials also plan to propose closing Love entirely, perhaps making the land available to private developers, as has been done with shuttered airports in other cities. The airline has argued that the airport should be closed to commercial passenger traffic.
But interviews with the sources knowledgeable about American's strategy make it apparent that the airline also is considering its options if Fort Worth and Dallas decide that the time has come to repeal the Wright Amendment.
American doesn't want to be in a place where the airline is "just stalling and stalling year after year" on the Wright Amendment, one source said.
Still, it's highly unlikely that American would agree to simply lift the restrictions. American executives clearly want to minimize Love's ability to compete with D/FW Airport, and to limit Southwest's growth as much as possible.
"American needs to lock Southwest in at Love Field," said Mike Boyd, an airline consultant with the Boyd Group of Evergreen, Colo.
"Once Southwest is unable to expand, then they can't really do that much damage to American," said Boyd, who has studied the Wright issue and wrote a report on it last year.
Fort Worth and Dallas have agreed to hold talks in coming weeks on the amendment's future. The discussions are likely to be completed by June 14, a deadline set by the Dallas City Council.
And American and Southwest will be debating the issue publicly this week in Omaha, Neb., giving presentations before that city's airport board, which has urged Nebraska's congressional delegation to support repeal efforts.
Southwest officials, who have agreed to participate in the talks, said they will welcome American to the negotiating table.
"We've always hoped they would enter into talks with everyone in good faith," said Ed Stewart, a spokesman. "Certainly from a [public relations] standpoint, they have something to gain, because I don't think they're winning that battle."
Dallas Love Field could see traffic double or even triple if the Wright Amendment were repealed.
A citizens committee representing neighborhoods around Dallas Love Field said it would withdraw support for the city's airport master plan if the Wright Amendment is repealed.
DFW Airport could support phasing out limits at Love Field only if the smaller airport closed as many as 14 of its 32 gates.
A consultant hired by Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport says an expansion of nearby Love Field would lead to reduced flights and millions fewer passengers each year at DFW.