Senators Hope to Force Votes on Wright Amendment

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hoping to force a vote on the law that limits flights to and from Dallas Love Field airport, Nevada Sen. John Ensign on Tuesday introduced legislation to repeal the Wright Amendment.

Ensign, a Republican, hopes to rally lawmakers to overcome opposition from Texas senators and others who want to retain the Wright Amendment. He said the same may work in the House, where Republican Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he'd ''do whatever it takes'' to stop the legislation.

The Wright Amendment, passed in 1979, restricts long-haul flights from the Dallas airport that is home to discount carrier Southwest Airlines Inc. The intent was to help growth at then-new Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, American Airlines' home.

Ensign's bill is co-sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

Getting around support for the Wright Amendment ''just depends on when people come up for a vote and have to explain to their constituents why they don't have flights'' that are cheaper and direct, Ensign said.

''This is a free-market issue with dramatic ramifications not just for Texas but for passengers throughout the entire country,'' Ensign said. ''Passengers from Dallas-Fort Worth want to go to Las Vegas and Reno.''

A similar bill is sponsored in the House by Dallas-area Republicans Jeb Hensarling and Sam Johnson. It has 28 co-sponsors.

Southwest Chairman Herb Kelleher said pushing for the repeal is ''not much of an uphill battle'' because without the Wright Amendment, 3.7 million more people would fly and would save $700 million a year.

''After 26 years we are going to keep bringing this issue up, even if it doesn't go this year,'' he said.

He cited Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and the smaller Midway Airport as models. Midway was unused and its opening hasn't hurt O'Hare, Kelleher said.

A spokesman from American Airlines, a unit of AMR Corp., was not immediately available Tuesday.

Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both Texas Republicans, were lukewarm to the repeal proposal.

Cornyn said he did not want to do anything that would hurt American Airlines financially and possibly lead to job cuts and Hutchison said the impact on Dallas Fort Worth taxpayers must be considered.

McCain said lawmakers also need to remove ''other barriers'' to aviation competition, such as a rule that restricts some flights into Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.