The key Senate committee considering the future of the Wright Amendment will hear from supporters and opponents of the law restricting flights at Dallas Love Field at hearings Nov. 10, according to congressional and industry insiders.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is expected to announce as soon as today the date of the hearings and the witness list for the first step in what promises to be a hard-fought struggle over the law.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., will conduct the hearings, which are expected to feature American Airlines' Chief Executive Gerard Arpey headlining the pro-Wright side and Southwest Airlines' founder Herb Kelleher leading the law's opponents.
In addition, a Dallas/Fort Worth Airport representative and witnesses supportive and critical of the law will lay out their positions.
The Wright Amendment is a 1979 law designed to protect D/FW Airport by restricting flights at Love Field to Texas and its four bordering states. It was amended to allow nonstop service to Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama.
The law has been periodically challenged by airlines that want to provide unfettered service and by consumers who want competition and lower fares. Southwest kicked off the current battle last year and has gained some momentum from lawmakers in regions vying for the Dallas-based carrier's service.
But Fort Worth-based American has fought back hard, warning that it would have to scale back its D/FW hub and move flights to Love Field in order to compete if the law is repealed.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who does not support repeal, is a member of the panel and has said repeatedly that the economic impact on North Texas must be addressed in making any changes to the law.
But repeal advocates Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev., and John McCain, R-Ariz., are also subcommittee members. Ensign introduced a bill July 19 to exempt all states from the Wright Amendment, and McCain is one of seven co-sponsors.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., a critic of the law who is not on the committee, is also expected to testify against it.
Bond secured Senate approval last week of a provision adding Missouri to the list of states exempt from the restrictions. A Senate and House conference committee, which will meet to work out differences in the spending bill that includes the provision, will decide whether the exemption becomes law.
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Gerard Arpey, American Airlines' chief executive, will square off with Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines' chairman and founder, during Senate hearings Thursday over the Wright Amendment.
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