Fort Worth City Council Reacts to Airports Proposal

Feb. 13, 2006
Several Fort Worth City Council members say they're open to the idea of forming a regional airport authority, in hopes of solving the squabbles surrounding Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Dallas Love Field.

Several Fort Worth City Council members say they're open to the idea of forming a regional airport authority, in hopes of solving the squabbles surrounding Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Dallas Love Field.

But there's also plenty of skepticism.

Council members and other local officials said Friday they're unclear how an airport authority would solve the problem, which stemmed from Dallas-based Southwest Airlines' initiating an all-out attack on the Wright Amendment more than a year ago. The Wright Amendment limits nonstop flights from Love Field to destinations in Texas and eight other states.

"The devil is in the details here," Councilwoman Becky Haskin said. "I think it's a long shot, but certainly it would be worth the effort once again."

The idea originally surfaced in 1967 when the state Legislature created the North Central Texas Airport Authority Act, which allowed the formation of a regional authority, but only with voter approval. The measure passed in Tarrant County, but not in Dallas County. That led to the formation of what is now the board of directors that runs D/FW Airport.

The Wright Amendment was created as a way to end the arguments over Southwest Airlines' entry into Love Field. The amendment allowed the upstart airline to fly nonstop to anywhere in Texas and the four bordering states.

But today, creating a regional airport authority doesn't necessarily solve the squabbles over the Wright Amendment on its own, said Jeff Wentworth, chairman of D/FW Airport and a former Fort Worth councilman and longtime banker.

A whole set of crucial questions still remains.

Do you abolish the Wright Amendment and open up Love Field to long-haul flights across the country? Are there limits on how big Love Field can grow? Does Fort Worth's Meacham Field get any passenger service like Love Field, as Fort Worth Councilman Chuck Silcox said he'd like to see?

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, said in an interview Friday that it's now up to Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief and Dallas Mayor Laura Miller to take the lead in working this out.

"It was good news to me to know that these mayors got together and started talking," Johnson said.

Miller told her for the first time last week that the two mayors were talking about a possible regional airport authority.

Johnson said she tried to get the two mayors together to talk about the idea quite a few times.

Moncrief declined to comment for this report, deferring to a statement he issued late Thursday, which identified the regional airport authority as one of many ideas that could help solve the Wright Amendment argument.

He is reluctant to talk publicly about the idea because it needs to be discussed more among local leaders, said Jason Lamers, a city spokesman.

"Right now it's premature to discuss a single idea out of many," Lamers said.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller also could not be reached for comment.

Officials with Southwest Airlines said they might support a regional authority, but only if it lifted the Wright restrictions at Love and allowed unfettered flying.

"Closing Love would be unacceptable, and forcing us to go to D/FW would be unacceptable," spokesman Ed Stewart said. "But as long as we can compete in a free environment, we'd be supportive."

Stewart added that the airline has received no proposals or requests for a discussion on the issue.

"We sit here waiting at the table for someone to talk to, but so far we're sitting alone," he said.

He pointed out that the airline operates in several airports that are controlled by owners of multiple airports, including Houston and Chicago.

"We've had no problems at all with those airports," he said.

American officials declined to comment Friday on the possibility of a group that oversees both airports.

The two Houston airports, George Bush Intercontinental and Hobby, are actually owned by the city's aviation department, not an airport authority. Regardless, Houston Airport System spokesman Roger Smith said, it's great to have one owner for two nearby airports.

"Bush Intercontinental and Hobby don't compete with each other," he said.

"They complement each other because they have pretty distinct and specific customer bases. There are many communities where you will have two different airports governed by two different entities, and it doesn't always result in smooth coordination and the ideal availability of travel options."

One example is international travel.

Houston is able to save money by consolidating a lot of the customs and border protection into Bush Intercontinental and running only domestic commercial flights from Hobby.

Councilman Carter Burdette said he thinks it's worth exploring the possibility of a regional airport authority.

"It's important that we get this matter resolved one way or another," he said.

Jungus Jordan heads the Fort Worth City Council's infrastructure committee, which oversees the city's airports, among other things.

He's said he doesn't know whether an airport authority would be good or bad.

To a certain degree, he labels himself "a doubting Thomas" on the idea.

"I just really have misgivings about changing something that could endanger D/FW to the detriment of citizens on the western half of the Metroplex," he said.

Several local leaders said the two cities need to do something soon to stop the squabbling and prevent legislators from other parts of the country from changing the Wright Amendment without knowing the consequences in North Texas.

Johnson said some kind of serious resolution needs to surface over the next 12 months.

"If we're going to seriously go to the table to work something out, it's going to have to be manifested this year or it'll be assumed that it's not going to happen," she said.

Johnson added that she might even check with Miller sometime soon to see how the talks with Moncrief are going.

And if it doesn't work to create a regional airport authority, the world's third-busiest airport must get more aggressive, Haskin said.

"D/FW just needs to go over there and buy Love Field," Haskin said. "The damage is done. We were cheated out of a unified effort before."

Aviation consultant Mike Boyd, of the Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo., was doubtful that a new airport authority could solve the Wright Amendment debate.

"It's a gigantic waste of time," he said. Even if the two airports were merged, he said, "you'd still have Southwest Airlines wanting to expand and American Airlines fighting it tooth and nail."

A new governing board "would just be a big Rodney King, can-we-all-get-along bureaucracy that would solve nothing."

He predicted, however, that any serious attempt to create a regional airport authority would have some clear winners: "The consultants who would be hired for the inevitable round of economic studies."

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