Although Missouri moved one step closer this week to fielding nonstop service from Dallas Love Field, officials from Southwest Airlines said Friday it's too early to say when it might begin nonstop flights to St. Louis and Kansas City.
"Our efforts are still focused on a done deal," said Marilee McInnis, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based Southwest. But "it's very encouraging for the citizens of St. Louis and Kansas City to fly into Love Field."
The Senate and House subcommittees responsible for transportation spending agreed in a conference session Thursday to a provision from Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., that adds his state to the eight others that are exempted from Wright Amendment restrictions on Love Field.
Both chambers are expected to vote Thursday on the conference report. If it passes, the Missouri exemption would take effect if President Bush signs the bill. That could come within weeks.
Southwest has said it would launch nonstops from Love to those two cities if changes to the Wright Amendment make it possible. Fort Worth-based American, which still leases three gates at Love Field but doesn't use them, declined to say whether it would launch flights from Love to the Missouri airports, or choose to compete from its hub at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
"We've not made any plans one way or the other at this moment," spokesman Tim Smith said. "We continue to study and observe the situation. It's not a law yet."
One thing is clear: If Southwest begins flying those routes, airfares to St. Louis and Kansas City from North Texas will fall, said Tom Parsons, owner of Arlington-based bestfares.com. He said consumers shouldn't expect Southwest flights to start until February or March.
Southwest has sizable operations at both Missouri airports: 61 daily nonstops out of Kansas City and 63 from St. Louis. So it will be able to move quicker than an airline starting service at either airport, Parsons said. Southwest leases eight gates in Kansas City and 12 in St. Louis.
American operates 11 daily nonstop flights to Kansas City from D/FW and 12 to St. Louis. The airline leases four gates in Kansas City and 21 in St. Louis.
"American is still our largest carrier, and Southwest is our second-largest," said Sandy Singer of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Of the 85 gates at Lambert, 31 are vacant.
"I think there's plenty of space at either of those two airports," Parsons said. "I don't think that's a problem at all. Their biggest problem is: Where does Southwest get the planes?"
If it passes, the Missouri legislation would be the second change to the Wright Amendment. In 1997, the Shelby Amendment added Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama to the exempted states, which already included Texas and the adjacent states.
"Kansas City and St. Louis, I think, is a whole different ballgame," Parsons said. "Overall it's another part of that wall of the D/FW-Wright Amendment falling apart."
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