Southwest Study Says Wright Costing Region

Southwest Airlines Chairman Herb Kelleher on Tuesday called the Wright Amendment "a tattered, worn-out and ancient anachronism."

A study commissioned by Southwest Airlines suggests that North Texas travelers could save nearly $700 million annually on airfares if the Wright Amendment is repealed.

The study also concludes that lifting flight restrictions at Dallas Love Field would add 3.7 million passengers to and from North Texas airports annually and boost the area economy by $1.7 billion.

"The Wright Amendment is truly a tattered, worn-out and ancient anachronism," said Herb Kelleher, chairman and co-founder of Dallas-based Southwest, the nation's largest low-fare airline.

Kelleher and other Southwest executives released the report Tuesday at a news conference in Dallas.

The report, written by the Campbell-Hill Aviation Group of Alexandria, Va., is the latest to analyze the effect of repealing the 1979 federal law that limits flights from Love Field to cities in Texas and four bordering states, as well as Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi.

A study issued last month by Dallas/Fort Worth Airport also concluded that eliminating the amendment would bring lower fares. But it emphasized potentially harmful effects on D/FW, predicting that the airport could lose more than 200 daily flights and millions of passengers annually.

The debate has intensified in recent weeks, with both sides vigorously lobbying Congress. Last month, two Dallas-area representatives filed a bill seeking to repeal the amendment.

Brian Campbell, who wrote the report for Southwest, said he assumed that if the amendment is lifted, Southwest would add nonstop flights to 15 destinations from Love Field and that American would respond by lowering fares on competing flights from D/FW.

Under that scenario, he concluded that:

Airfares on those competitive routes would drop by about $688 million annually, or an average of about $134 per round-trip ticket.

The number of passengers traveling to and from North Texas would increase about 44 percent, to 10.3 million annually from 6.6 million.

North Texas would gain $1.7 billion annually in economic benefits from new passengers traveling to the region. The 15 cities with new service to the region would gain a total of $1.8 billion in added benefits.

The amendment is costing the nation $4 billion annually in higher airfares and lost economic benefits.

"North Texas needs more airline competition," Campbell said. "There's almost none of it at D/FW today."

Southwest paid Campbell-Hill about $75,000 for the study, which primarily relied on data from the U.S. Transportation Department.

The Wright Amendment was designed to protect D/FW, built in the 1970s by the two cities at the behest of the federal government. Today, American Airlines is the dominant carrier on long-distance flights from D/FW, and Southwest controls more than 90 percent of flights out of Love.

D/FW Airport officials argued that Southwest could resolve the issue by starting service at their airport. That could bring lower fares to the region without risking D/FW's financial health, they said.

"Every other carrier that serves this Metroplex does it from a level playing field at D/FW," said Kevin Cox, the airport's chief operating officer. He said Southwest's contention that it cannot compete at D/FW is ridiculous, as the airline is the industry's most profitable carrier.

"They can compete everywhere, and they compete ferociously," he said. "To say otherwise is misleading."

Southwest executives say they don't want to fly out of D/FW, one of the world's busiest airports, because it's too congested for quick turnarounds for its planes. They also say it would not be cost-effective to split its operation between the two airports.

Dan Garton, American Airlines' executive vice president of marketing, said that repealing the Wright Amendment would benefit only Southwest Airlines.

"Regardless of what they claim, both the local economy and the environment around Love Field will undoubtedly suffer if the Wright Amendment is repealed," he said.

American executives have threatened to move a significant number of flights from D/FW to Love Field if the amendment is repealed. Neighborhood groups around Love Field have opposed lifting the restrictions, which they fear will bring more noise and traffic to the area.

D/FW officials say losing flights and passengers to Love Field could seriously strain the airport's finances, just as it is assuming nearly $3 billion in new debt for its new terminal and SkyLink train system.

Southwest executives maintain that D/FW, which has grown into one of the world's largest airports, no longer needs protection from Love Field.

"This issue is about high fares, and the cost of doing nothing is just too great," said Gary Kelly, Southwest's chief executive. He said eliminating the restrictions would "bring the Dallas market out of the Dark Ages and into the light of lower fares, increased travel and more dollars spent in area businesses."

IN THE KNOW

A report commissioned by Southwest Airlines examined the effect of lifting the Wright Amendment. Its conclusions:

Annual passenger savings: $700 million

Average round-trip savings: $134

Annual economic benefit to North Texas: $1.7 billion

New passengers annually: 3.7 million

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