WASHINGTON -- On the eve of today's Senate hearing on the Wright Amendment, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport unfurled a grassroots campaign of more than 50 organizations to put public pressure on lawmakers to keep the law that limits service at rival Dallas Love Field.
At a news conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill organized by D/FW's chief operating officer, Kevin Cox, representatives of civic, business and minority groups, the mayor of Abilene, and officials from the Texarkana and San Angelo airports spoke out, some passionately, about the risks of increasing flights at Love Field.
"It's time for someone to appreciate that there are a significant amount of people concerned if the Wright Amendment is repealed," said Cox, who gave a 30-minute presentation after meeting with Texas reporters. He is scheduled to testify today.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Aviation Subcommittee is holding a hearing today on the law, which restricts flights from Love Field to cities in Texas and seven nearby states. The panel moved the hearing to a larger room in the Hart Building because of the high degree of interest.
Southwest Airlines has been waging a high-profile campaign to repeal the law so it can grow from its Dallas base, and Fort Worth-based American Airlines has fought back, along with D/FW, saying the law is needed so the larger airport can remain an "economic engine" for the region.
In a statement, Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief said, "The citizens of Fort Worth and Dallas came together to settle this issue in 1968 with the creation of D/FW International Airport, and Congress upheld their wishes by enacting the Wright Amendment in 1979.
"The people and their elected representatives spoke clearly and have not altered course. The result is North Texas is now a growing international destination and D/FW has become one of the world's most vital transportation hubs."
The broad-based group of activist Wright Amendment supporters who traveled to Washington on Wednesday represents an expansion of the battle between the airlines to civic groups throughout the state.
"When you play one of us you play all of us," Abilene Mayor Norm Archibald said. "The effect of the Wright Amendment has a trickle-down effect on my community."
Archibald and others in smaller cities worry that Southwest's ability to fly anywhere would mean that American would shift service to Love Field to compete and abandon some cities it now serves.
"I'm at the end of the food chain," said Steve Luebbert, director of the Texarkana Regional Airport. "The two carriers will survive, but many of the smaller airports, we may not survive."
San Angelo Regional Airport Director Craig Williams suggested that Love Field be closed to commercial aviation and used for general aviation.
The D/FW-organized event listed more than 50 groups, including the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, the cities of Arlington, Euless, Hurst, Mansfield and Rochester, Minn., that have passed resolutions in favor of the Wright Amendment.
Southwest has actively sought support from such cities as Nashville, Tenn.; Las Vegas; and Tampa, Fla., that want the low-cost carrier to serve them.
But the strongest statements in support of the Wright Amendment at the news conference Wednesday came from citizen advocates.
Pat White, a member of the Love Field Citizens Action Committee, said that for 25 years the group has been concerned with safety, noise, traffic and pollution, which the Master Plan for the airport aimed to limit in 2002.
"The Master Plan will become irrelevant without the Wright Amendment," White said. "Love Field is surrounded by the most successful and most varied economic and ethnic neighborhoods of any inner-city airport. All this is at risk now."
"Today's issue is about much more than airlines and where they fly," said Adelfa Callejo, former chairman of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "It is about trust, stewardship and being a good neighbor. Southwest has violated every one of these tenets of being a good corporate citizen to the Latino community."
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.
Dallas Love Field could see traffic double or even triple if the Wright Amendment were repealed.
Three North Texas House members, including Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, will testify on the Wright Amendment on Thursday during Senate hearings on the law.