Tulsa and OKC Airports Could Lose Flights When American Opens Love Field Service

American officials said they had no choice but to make a competitive move after an amendment to the controversial Wright Act was signed into law by President Bush.

Airports in Tulsa and Oklahoma City could lose some daily flights after American Airlines announced it would open service at Love Field in Dallas to compete with Southwest Airlines.

Fort Worth-based American is scrambling to assemble the jets, equipment and workers needed to begin operations at Love. No destinations or schedules have been announced yet, said American spokesman Tim Wagner.

Wagner could not say if the new operation would sap jobs from American's facilities in Tulsa, which employ approximately 8,000 people.

American officials said they have no choice but to make a competitive move after an amendment to the controversial Wright Act was signed into law by President Bush this week.

The original act, enacted in 1979 at the behest of former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, limited Southwest's nonstop routes to Texas and its four adjacent states. The law was meant to protect the fledgling Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport from competition.

Since then, lawmakers have added Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas to Southwest's list. And this year, U.S. Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., won an exemption for Missouri. That prompted Southwest to announce this week that it would begin nonstop flights on Dec. 13 to two of American's key markets - Kansas City and St. Louis.

In October, as debate heated up over whether to repeal the entire Wright Act, American commissioned a study with Eclat Consulting to illustrate what effect a full repeal would have on air travel. The study predicted that repealing the act would force American to open gates at Love to keep up with Southwest, meaning flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to smaller cities and international markets would be cut or eliminated altogether by American, and possibly other airlines.

While Dallas-Fort Worth is a much larger airport, Love Field is closer to the Dallas metro area and viewed, by some, as more convenient.

The Eclat study said that smaller cities that depend on Dallas-Fort Worth for access to, and competition within the United States, could become the biggest losers if the entire Wright Act was repealed.

Airports in Tulsa and Oklahoma City were listed at "moderate risk" for losing daily flights to Dallas-Fort Worth, possibly losing two daily departures from American. Lawton's airport was classified "high risk" and could also lose two daily flights, the study said.

Some cities might even lose daily flights from multiple carriers, according to Eclat. The study predicted Oklahoma City could lose four, including two from American, one from Southwest and one from Continental.

Wagner didn't deny that Oklahoma City and Tulsa might see a drop in American flights to Dallas-Fort Worth.

"Obviously, we didn't want to be forced to go into Love, which forced us to split our operations. And once you split operations you're going to remove traffic and it will be from international routes and smaller cities," Wagner said. "I'm not making any predictions, but that's how it works.

"We're making the best of two bad choices. One is to give up local traffic to other carriers who choose to operate (at Love), and stay at DFW, or go to Love. We think it's the best of two bad choices to move some service over there. We will compete vigorously."

Southwest: Not cutting flights

According to the study, there is precedent for Southwest cutting some flights in Oklahoma. The airline has a history of reducing departures from Wright Amendment states: Between July 2004 and July of this year, departures have been reduced by 9.8 percent at Tulsa International Airport, and by 11.2 percent at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, the study said.

Southwest Airlines has fought hard to get the Wright Amendment repealed. The company has argued for years that the act was simply designed to punish Southwest and preserve American's monopoly at Dallas-Fort Worth.

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