Southwest Workers Protest City's Stance on Wright Amendment

Ten Southwest Airlines employees who live in Southlake want the City Council to revoke its support for the Wright Amendment.

The council Aug. 16 approved a resolution to support Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and the 1979 federal law that limits flights from Dallas Love Field.

Several Tarrant County cities, including Arlington, Fort Worth, Hurst and Euless, have supported similar resolutions. But Southlake should stay out of the battle, the Southwest employees said.

The council's public stance implies that every Southlake resident supports the amendment. Opinions differ among the hundreds of residents who work for American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and D/FW Airport, said Brad Bartholomew, a Southwest Airlines pilot for 20 years.

Bartholomew, for example, wants the law repealed.

"This is an indeed divisive, emotionally charged issue," he told the council Tuesday. "In a very public, visible, bitter manner you have now directly pitted each of us against the other, surrounding an issue that the City Council has no authority or jurisdiction over."

Council members say the airport's financial viability and future growth is important to the North Texas economy. And officials with D/FW and American Airlines -- the largest employer in North Texas -- say lifting the Love Field restrictions would damage the airport.

"The resolution is nothing more than the council recognizing that people have spoken in favor of honoring contracts that we made three decades ago. It is not binding," said Mayor Pro Tem Keith Shankland, who has been an American Airlines pilot for 20 years. "There is no division in the community."

The Wright Amendment protects D/FW by banning long-haul passenger service out of Love. Direct flights were limited to Texas and adjoining states. The subsequent Shelby Amendment opened direct flights to three more states.

Southwest officials are lobbying the public and Congress to eliminate the Wright Amendment. The company advises its employees about area public venues where the amendment might be discussed, said Ed Stewart, a spokesman for Dallas-based Southwest.

The pilots, flight attendants and other employees went to Tuesday's council meeting with no encouragement from the airline. But they certainly were not discouraged to speak their minds either, he said.

"It doesn't take much to get them riled up and involved as they encourage others to repeal it," Stewart said. "They feel strongly about the issue, as most Southwest employees feel."

D/FW officials have sought local support to show Congress that area communities support Wright.

The Hurst City Council approved a resolution this month after opting in March against taking a position. Joe Lopano, D/FW's executive vice president of marketing and revenue management, convinced the council that local jobs were at stake. The airport and related businesses employ about 280,000 people.

But Watauga council members voted against a resolution in February because they felt the issue did not affect city residents.

In Southlake, the Southwest employees said the council should have sought public comment before it voted on the resolution. The item was part of the consent agenda, a list of routine items approved with a single vote.

Council members said they gauged public opinion from a July town meeting that drew 150 people and was hosted by U.S Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, a Wright supporter. The crowd stood up in support of the amendment when the topic came up.

The Southwest employees said Councilman John Terrell, D/FW vice president for commercial development, should have abstained from voting. Terrell said the city attorney advised him before the vote that his participation would not be improper.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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