Southwest Loses Seattle Airport Fight

Southwest Airlines has lost its battle in Seattle.

King County, Wash., rejected Southwest's bid Tuesday to begin passenger service at Boeing Field, citing the possibility of additional noise, congestion and years of lawsuits over the issue.

Dallas-based Southwest had asked the county to open the airport to commercial flights and offered to build a passenger terminal and parking facility. The airline also agreed to pay for an environmental study of the proposal. Southwest and other airlines now fly from Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

Southwest executives say they wanted to move because costs are rising too quickly at Sea-Tac. The airport has expanded in recent years, and airline officials say it is now the most expensive in their system. Costs there are about twice the airline's average airport cost, officials said.

But the proposal spurred strong protests from rivals. Alaska Airlines, which is the largest carrier in Seattle, threatened to move hundreds of flights from Sea-Tac to Boeing to compete with Southwest.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines also said it would shift flights to the smaller airport if it opened to commercial service.

"We've always said that the area is best served by everyone flying out of Sea-Tac," said American spokesman Tim Smith.

Gary Kelly, Southwest's chief executive, said he was disappointed in the decision. But he said Southwest is not planning to pull out of the Seattle market, at least not anytime soon.

The debate over Seattle's airports was reminiscent of the North Texas fight over the Wright Amendment. In both cases, Southwest was pressing for expanded service from a smaller, alternative airport, while American supported a single, large airport.

But Kelly said events in Seattle have no bearing on Southwest's drive to repeal the amendment. "The two issues are entirely unrelated," he said.

Kevin Cox, chief operating officer at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, said the Seattle decision supports D/FW's argument that cities are best served by a single regional airport.

"It's on par with the last 25 years of history, where you build one large airport and let everyone compete effectively on the same playing field," he said.

D/FW officials have been trying, with no success, to entice Southwest to begin long-haul service at D/FW. Southwest executives say they would rather fly long-haul flights from Love.

In Seattle, King County Executive Ron Sims said Tuesday morning that although the idea of passenger flights at Boeing Field was "an exciting opportunity," he was concerned about the effect on nearby neighborhoods. He said he was worried that a substantial amount of public money would be needed to add commercial service to the airport.

He added that the possibility of "years of litigation" over the issue was also a concern.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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