Southwest Airlines kicked off a new phase in its campaign to overturn the Wright Amendment on Thursday as it launched an Internet site that executives hope will boost grassroots support for change.
Executives unveiled the new site at a rally at the company's Dallas headquarters, in front of hundreds of cheering and chanting employees, many wearing yellow-and-orange tie-dyed shirts declaring "set Love free."
"Are y'all ready to get rid of that stupid Wright Amendment?" Colleen Barrett, Southwest's president, asked the crowd, which responded with loud cheers.
As the airline rallied its troops in Dallas, some attention in Washington, D.C., shifted to Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., new chairman of a key Senate subcommittee with responsibility for aviation.
Bond, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, the Judiciary and Housing and Urban Development, has started gathering information on the issue, said Rob Ostrander, a Bond spokesman.
"Sen. Bond will assess all the information as the facts are gathered from all sides," Ostrander said. He has met with officials from Southwest and D/FW, Ostrander said.
Bond has not publicly taken a position on whether the Wright Amendment needs to be repealed. The Senate is in recess this week.
The amendment, enacted by Congress in 1979 to protect Dallas/Fort Worth Airport from competition, restricts flights from Love Field to adjacent states. It was later amended to include Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi.
But last year, Southwest began lobbying to get the amendment overturned. Southwest operates from Love Field and not D/FW, claiming that the larger airport doesn't fit the low-cost airline's business model.
Attempts to overturn the federal law have been bitterly contested by D/FW officials, who say it would hurt that airport. Fort Worth-based American Airlines has also lobbied against any changes, which could cost the carrier hundreds of millions of dollars.
Southwest's new Web site has news and information on the amendment and lays out the airline's argument for repeal. It also allows people to sign up for more information and includes an option for sending anti-Wright Amendment e-mails to friends.
"People are always coming up to us and asking us how it's going and what they can do," said Gary Kelly, Southwest's chief executive. "This is a good way of getting our message out to the whole nation."
Kelly said the campaign might expand to include billboards and other advertising.
In typical Southwest style, the airline injected a strong dose of humor into its rally Thursday. Three employees, dubbed the "SW Extremes," sang a version of the Supremes song Keep Me Hanging On with anti-Wright Amendment lyrics.
D/FW officials urged Southwest to give up its quest and instead move some operations to that airport.
"Southwest can have the best of both worlds at Love Field and D/FW, and unite and benefit North Texas," Kevin Cox, the airport's chief operating officer said in a statement.
The airport launched its own informational Web site in February.
In addition to having competing Internet sites, officials at both Southwest and D/FW called the Wright Amendment by different names Thursday.
Cox, in his statement, referred to it as "the Love Field Amendment." Southwest's Barrett, meanwhile, called it "that damn amendment."
Two airline titans are stirring up an old squabble on Capitol Hill, with lower airfares and more service between Kansas City and Dallas among the potential stakes.
Southwest Airlines intensified its drive to repeal the Wright Amendment on Tuesday, releasing a petition with 215,000 signatures from Texas voters.
A consultant hired by Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport says an expansion of nearby Love Field would lead to reduced flights and millions fewer passengers each year at DFW.
American Airlines, the world's largest airline, and Southwest Airlines, Kansas City's largest carrier, are fighting over an obscure 26-year-old law called the Wright Amendment.