American Eagle Letter Hints at Punitive Action Toward Tyler, Texas Airport

Members of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Aviation Committee agreed the community should continue a letter-writing campaign to urge American Airlines to avoid flight cuts.

Jan. 24--Some Tyler government and business say a letter from American Eagle Airlines to a Tyler businessman appears to hint that anticipated American Eagle flight reductions at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport were a punitive measure for the city's refusal to take a stand on the Wright Amendment.

Members of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Aviation Committee, during a Monday meeting, agreed the community should continue a letter-writing campaign to urge American Airlines to avoid flight cuts. American Eagle previously indicated it would cut flights to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport from seven to four per day.

The committee members were given copies of a Jan. 17 e-mail from Dale E. Morris, manager director, government affairs/community relations for American Eagle. The message was in response to an e-mail in which Phil Burks, a Tyler entrepreneur, asked the airline to "consider the economics of others like me that might actually flip all segments to Continental and hub out of Houston to the world" if American were to cut back on its commuter Tyler-Dallas flights.

Morris, responding to Burks' e-mail, said a need to move American Eagle capacity to compete with Southwest Airlines between Love Field in Dallas, St. Louis and Kansas City was the main reason behind a reduction of service in Tyler. He said the shifting of the airline is a response to a relaxation of the Wright Amendment.

The Wright Amendment dates to the early 1970s, when the city of Dallas began taking steps to close Love Field to avoid taking away business from the then-new DFW airport.

Southwest Airlines, which was based at Love Field, sued over what it described as a "forced" move to DFW and prevailed. The Wright Amendment, passed in 1979, restricted the airline's service to limited points in Texas and neighboring states in an effort to protect DFW.

Now, Southwest officials are telling lawmakers there is more than enough ridership to support two airports. Amid objections from American, Southwest was granted permission in December to expand flight operations into Missouri.

American, in a meeting last year with the city's Airport Advisory Board, indicated that if the amendment were repealed, it would create new economic pressures and the airline would have to cut some Tyler service to remain competitive in the new market.

But some committee members believed Morris' letter alluded to flight cutbacks being in response to the city' refusal to take a side on the Wright Amendment.

Morris wrote: "As an individual charged with the responsibility to represent AE in the community, I must say, Mr. Burks, that it was a disappointment that your elected, appointed and business leadership in Tyler chose not to recognize the importance of objecting to changes to the Wright Amendment. Even after a commissioned study -- was presented to the airport showing how repeal of the Wright Amendment can threaten service to small communities, including Tyler, I received no response. I firmly believe their inaction has contributed to the loosening of the Wright Amendment restrictions and ultimately lead to the service reductions in Tyler.

"Mr. Burks, as an entrepreneur in Tyler that depends on international and domestic service, perhaps you can convince them that they made a bad decision in this regard and make them understand that there is no chance of Southwest servicing Tyler." Tyler Mayor Joey Seeber said he saw the Jan. 17 e-mail last week, and he said it represented to him a link between the city's refusal to take a side on the Wright Amendment and the actions of American.

"That letter is the first indication that I've gotten from anybody that American's actions had anything to do with the (city's position on the) Wright Amendment," Seeber said. "And it's implied." Tom Mullins, chamber president and CEO, told the Aviation Committee that American has always said anticipated cutbacks in Tyler would not be in response to the city's position on the Wright Amendment.

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