Competing Bills Fill the Air as Senate Battles Wright Amendment

The proposed law, put forward by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa., would leave Love open for general aviation and corporate aircraft.


Dallas Love Field would be closed to commercial airline service under a bill filed in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, the latest salvo in an escalating battle in Washington over the Wright Amendment.

The proposed law, put forward by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa., would leave Love open for general aviation and corporate aircraft. But it would prevent any commercial flights there -- a move that, if passed, would force Dallas-based Southwest Airlines from its longtime home base.

The proposal came as Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev., and John McCain, R-Ariz., filed a bill that would repeal the amendment, allowing unrestricted commercial flights from Love. That bill is similar to a House measure put forward by Republican Reps. Sam Johnson of Plano and Jeb Hensarling of Dallas in May, to lift restrictions that limit flights from Love Field to cities in Texas, bordering states, plus Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi.

"It's long overdue to repeal this arcane law," McCain said.

And another senator, Kit Bond, R-Mo., added a measure to a spending bill that would allow flights from Love to Missouri. The provision would allow Southwest to serve St. Louis and Kansas City from Dallas.

A spokeswoman for Harkin said the Iowa senator was supporting Inhofe's "True Competition Act" because he's concerned that smaller cities in Iowa and Illinois could lose service to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport if the amendment is lifted. He fears that American Airlines would shift capacity to compete with Southwest on flights to larger cities, leaving small communities without service.

"He did it to prevent the elimination of these flights," said spokeswoman Maureen Knightly, citing routes to Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Moline, Ill., in particular.

Executives with Fort Worth-based American welcomed the bill.

"It appropriately broadens the debate over the Wright Amendment," Will Ris, the airline's senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. "It is a highly complicated issue, and a full range of options should be explored if there is to be any discussion of a new compromise."

A spokesman for D/FW Airport said officials had not yet seen the proposal and were unable to comment late Tuesday.

But a spokesman for Southwest called the bill a "scare tactic" that "is counter to what most of the flying public wants."

Spokesman Ed Stewart said that even if Love Field were shut down, Southwest would not begin service at D/FW. "D/FW is totally out of the question," he said.

He declined to comment on whether Southwest would move its corporate headquarters to another city if the airport is closed to commercial service.

Critics of the Wright Amendment, crafted in 1979 when D/FW was still a relatively new airport, have long complained that passengers traveling to more distant states on Southwest must book two tickets -- one within the Wright Amendment's boundaries and another to the final destination. Under the law, they must reboard and recheck their baggage, often paying considerably higher fares.

Six months ago, Southwest executives embarked on a crusade to overturn the amendment, arguing that it artificially inflates fares by preventing competition.

But officials with D/FW and American counter that eliminating the restrictions could hurt the larger airport and ultimately damage the area's economy.

D/FW officials have been pushing for Southwest to move to their facility and running ads citing a survey that showed public support for Southwest flights at the airport.

Southwest scored a victory Tuesday morning, when Ensign and McCain unveiled their "American Right to Fly Bill."

Texas' two Republican senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, are opposed to the bill and suggested that both sides work together to try to resolve the dispute.

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