Missouri Flights to be OK'd Today

As of today, Southwest Airlines should be able to spread "Love" to Missouri.

President Bush is expected to sign a bill today that will open up air service between Dallas Love Field and points in Missouri for the first time since 1979, when Congress imposed limits in the Wright Amendment.

"The president is expected to sign the bill [today]," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.

In the morning, the president is giving a major speech on Iraq at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Upon his return to the White House, Duffy said, Bush will sign several appropriations bills, including a bill funding the Transportation Department and other agencies. That bill contains the Missouri provision inserted by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo.

The Wright Amendment limits Love Field service to Texas and seven nearby states. Dallas-based Southwest, which flies out of Love Field, is poised to begin advertising new service to Kansas City and St. Louis immediately after the bill is signed.

"Once we know it's been signed, we can swing into action," said Southwest spokesman Ed Stewart.

"We can start advertising, we can start planning big press events for the inaugural flights, and we can get the aircraft in place."

"We're champing at the bit to get started," he said. The ads are ready, he acknowledged, and he predicted that the marketing marching orders would be sent out one minute after the bill is signed. If the president signs it at 2 p.m., Stewart said, "then at 2:01 p.m., we'll call the advertising agency."

Stewart would not release any information about schedules or how soon flights will begin after the bill signing, other than that service will start "shortly thereafter."

"I have not seen a specific date," he said. "I think we could do it by Christmas, certainly."

Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which serves Kansas City and St. Louis from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, is expected to compete with Southwest by offering service from Love Field.

"Once it becomes law, we want to compete as quickly as possible," American spokesman Tim Wagner said.

American officials met with Love Field managers this month when it became clear that the exemption of Missouri from the Wright Amendment would be included in the funding bill.

"It will take some time," said Wagner, explaining that the three gates that American has leased at Love Field have never been used and need to be furnished and updated. American has been fighting a Southwest-led effort to persuade Congress to repeal the Wright Amendment, named for Jim Wright, D-Fort Worth, then the House majority leader.

American now has 11 daily fights from D/FW to Kansas City and 12 to St. Louis, largely providing direct service.

"That's the type of passenger we've been concerned all along would move to Love Field," Wagner said.

And there are passengers elsewhere who look forward to flying into the airport.

"I'm personally thrilled that this is happening since my entire family lives in Dallas," said Pam Whiting, vice president of communications for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. "My sister lives five minutes from Love Field. I have taken Southwest from here to Tulsa and Tulsa to Dallas to get around the Wright Amendment."

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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