Nebraska Seeking Wright Exemption

Nebraska wants to join the Love Field party.

Three members of Congress filed legislation Thursday that would make Nebraska the 10th state to be exempted from the restrictions of the Wright Amendment. They said the filing was spurred by last year's exemption of Missouri, which has resulted in Omaha's airport losing Dallas-bound customers to Kansas City.

"The Missouri deal is causing Nebraska a great deal of competitive problems with Kansas City," said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., who co-sponsored the bill. "It's very easy for people who want to fly to Dallas to drive to Kansas City and get a cheaper fare."

It remains to be seen whether the bill has any chance of passing. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that would consider it, and he has vowed to crush bills that would loosen the Wright restrictions.

He dismissed the Nebraska effort.

"There's nothing particularly noteworthy about representatives simply introducing a bill," he said Thursday.

But officials with Southwest Airlines, which is pushing for the amendment's repeal, said the bill was another step.

"Clearly this shows there is still growing support for repeal," said Ed Stewart, a Southwest spokesman.

The bill is the latest attempt to loosen the restrictions of the amendment, a 1979 law that restricts flights from Love to Texas and several nearby states.

Southwest, whose home base is Love, began campaigning in 2004 to repeal Wright, calling it anti-consumer.

That drive is opposed by Fort Worth's American Airlines, which operates a hub at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. American argues that an unfettered Love will force the airline to shift flights from D/FW, causing the region to lose service to some cities.

Last year, Congress added Missouri to the list of Love states, and Southwest and American began service to St. Louis and Kansas City from Love.

Walk-up fares to the cities have declined by as much as 80 percent, according to Southwest officials.

But Missouri's exemption caused heartburn in Omaha, where American operates all flights to North Texas.

Kansas City is less than three hours away, and many Omaha consumers are driving and taking cheaper flights to Love from there, said Don Smithey, executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority.

He estimates that lower fares to Dallas would save Omaha consumers as much as $20 million annually.

"This is a national issue that affects a lot of cities," he said.

The bill was filed despite a request from the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas for a congressional "cease-fire."

The two cities have been working on a local compromise and hope to come up with a proposal before self-imposed deadlines of June 14 for Dallas and Aug. 1 for Fort Worth.

"We're not a part of this self-imposed moratorium," said Jen Hein, a Terry spokeswoman.

Republican Reps. Tom Osborne and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska also signed on to the legislation with Terry.

Stewart of Southwest suggested that other states' lawmakers might file for exemptions after seeing the Missouri results.

"We think you'll see a domino effect at work," he said.

But American executives said the bill overlooks the fact that Southwest can fly now to Omaha from D/FW.

"There's a better way to achieve what they want," said Roger Frizzell, an American spokesman. "It's called D/FW, and it's just eight miles away" from Love.

Frizzell also said that many smaller communities support Wright because they fear loss of service to D/FW in case of repeal.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, said it was "a good day" for Wright opponents. Hensarling, who has sponsored a repeal bill, believes that more states will seek exemptions.

Wright supporters Reps. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, said they weren't concerned about the Nebraska bill.

The local proposal might take longer than expected.

Dallas gave DMJM Aviation, a Tampa, Fla., consulting firm, until Saturday to wrap up a study that's expected to discuss how large Love should be.

But that's going to be pushed back until the first or second week in June, said Frank Librio, chief of staff for Dallas Mayor Laura Miller.

Staff writers David Wethe and Maria Recio contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 2006, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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