American to Fly From Love Field

Beginning March 2, American Airlines will resume its head-to-head battle with Southwest Airlines at Dallas Love Field, armed with 16 new nonstop flights to St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; Austin and San Antonio.

Dallas-based Southwest runs 36 daily nonstop flights from Love to those cities, including eight departures to Missouri that began Tuesday.

The Love Field expansion for Fort Worth-based American will come at the expense of a reduced schedule at its largest hub, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. American will eliminate nine daily nonstop flights to six cities from D/FW, including Long Beach, Calif., and Lima, Peru.

It will also pare nonstop service by almost 30 percent to seven other destinations, including the four new cities that American will be flying to from Love, according to a letter the company sent Tuesday to D/FW.

"We realize that these operational decisions come at a difficult time for D/FW International Airport," Tim Ahern, American's vice president of the D/FW hub, wrote in the letter to Jeff Fegan, D/FW's chief executive. "However, it is essential that we make these moves to ensure that American remains competitive."

D/FW Airport officials, who have been waiting to see American's schedule changes, said the cuts will hurt D/FW.

"It is a very unfortunate reality that North Texas is losing key flights and destinations at a time when our region was looking forward to domestic and international growth," Kevin Cox, the airport's chief operating officer, said in a prepared statement. "This should serve as a solemn and ominous warning for those who would seek to reopen Love Field to additional long-haul service -- there are very real and serious economic consequences for all of North Texas."

In all, American will begin cutting 31 flights from D/FW to 13 destinations in February, said Dan Garton, American's executive vice president of marketing. The airline is regrettably shifting flights so that it doesn't lose some of its best customers to Southwest, he said.

"We are competing against the 800-pound gorilla today," Garton said. "We have preferred products and service, a more attractive frequent-flier program and a bigger, more appealing network. But they've got a bigger bank account."

Southwest -- Love's dominant carrier with 112 of the airport's 125 daily commercial flights -- says it welcomes the competition.

The two airlines last went head-to-head at Love in 2000 and 2001, when American came in to compete against upstart Legend Airlines.

Legend eventually shut down operations, and American subsequently withdrew from Love.

"American has operated out of Love previously, and we have effectively competed with them at that time," said Brandy King, a spokeswoman for Southwest. "We are ready to compete no matter what the destination."

Southwest's first flight to Missouri and American's newly announced schedule come 13 days after President Bush signed a bill exempting Missouri from the Wright Amendment, a 1979 law that limits commercial nonstop flights from Love to seven other states outside of Texas.

A year ago, Southwest launched a campaign to repeal the law. American and D/FW are vigorously defending it.

The Love Field Citizens Action Committee, a coalition of 14 neighborhoods surrounding the Dallas airport, also wants to keep the law intact to prevent an increase in noise, traffic and safety risks.

The group said that Southwest's inaugural Love Field service to Missouri on Tuesday now renders the airport's master agreement, which limits capacity to 32 gates, "null and void."

Rudy Longoria, a co-chairman of the 25-year-old citizens group, said that's because the master agreement, which was signed in 2001, was based on the assumption that the Wright Amendment would continue to limit long-haul flights from Love Field.

Since 2001, American has leased three unused gates in the east concourse. Work still needs to be done on the empty gate areas, which require furniture and jet bridges.

American has not announced prices for its new flights from Missouri, but Garton said they will be comparable to the same routes offered at D/FW.

When Southwest announced its new Missouri schedule a week and a half ago, prices were as much as 50 percent cheaper than the fares American was offering that same day on its Web site.

From Love to St. Louis and Kansas City, Southwest offers fares as low as $79 each way, with Internet specials $10 cheaper. American has since matched those fares.

Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American, labeled the canceled flights as "lower-performing routes."

"They're marginal routes, where even a small decline in passengers can move them from profitable to unprofitable, especially in an era of historically high fuel prices," Wagner said. Michael Boyd, an airline consultant with Denver-based The Boyd Group, said American is using the Wright Amendment as an excuse to cut poorly performing flights, such as D/FW to Long Beach.

"Long Beach is a dog," he said, pointing to 60 percent passenger loads on those flights. "They should have pulled out of it anyway."

American's pullout of Lima, Peru, also should be based more on its poor performance, he said. "To blame that on putting a couple MD-80s into Missouri just stretches their credibility."

But Wagner said that American only has so many airplanes and cannot afford to buy more equipment to add new service. American will also lose connecting passengers when flights are shifted to Love Field.

American has to fight to keep the Wright Amendment, Boyd said. But Gerard Arpey, American's president and chief executive, is not doing it the right way, he said.

"Arpey's acting like a little child [by saying,] 'I'll hold my breath until you change your mind,' " Boyd said. "It's good strategy to attempt to stop repeal. Their chosen tactics are embarrassingly amateur and embarrassingly transparent."

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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