The Wright Amendment is still needed to maintain Dallas/Fort Worth Airport as the region's 'economic engine'
By Kay Granger
Once upon a time, there were two cities just 30 miles apart. Both cities had airports, and each wanted to make its airport premier. That led to a lot of fighting between the two.
The cities were Fort Worth and Dallas. And the airports were Greater Southwest International Airport and Dallas Love Field. Never heard of Greater Southwest International Airport? You probably haven't because it doesn't exist anymore.
Why? Because the federal agency that regulated commercial passenger airports -- the Civil Aeronautics Board -- ordered an end to the years of bitter fighting between Dallas and Fort Worth. The agency said: Designate a single airport for the region. That was in 1964.
A 1968 agreement between the two cities resolved the situation: Both cities would close their existing airports to commercial passenger service. Fort Worth closed Greater Southwest and tore it down. Dallas pledged to close Love Field to commercial passenger service. A single regional airport would be built.
That plan suffered a setback in the 1970s, when a new regional carrier, Southwest Airlines, won a court battle that allowed it to offer passenger service from Love Field.
To ensure that D/FW remained the major commercial passenger airport, the two cities and D/FW agreed on a plan to allow limited commercial passenger service at Love Field that would not harm D/FW. Southwest was persuaded to join the agreement and, in 1979, the agreement was written into legislation by House Speaker Jim Wright. Hence, it is called the Wright Amendment.
The compromise preserved a key provision of the agreement between Fort Worth and Dallas -- the "1968 Concurrent Bond Covenants." This mechanism financed the creation of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and pledged that neither city would do anything to limit the expansion, or development, of D/FW Airport.
Today, D/FW Airport is in the midst of an enormous expansion, an expansion that was always planned in order to keep D/FW a premier airport.
Unquestionably, D/FW Airport is North Texas' economic engine.
It's one of the world's busiest airports because of its capabilities and location. Airlines fly in and out of D/FW Airport virtually year-round without delays. Passengers have a multitude of direct-flight options and a host of connecting flight choices. Thousands of businesses have located or expanded in North Texas because of D/FW. That has translated into untold numbers of excellent jobs.
Three glaring reasons support why the Wright Amendment must remain in place.
• Because of necessary expansion that increased debt substantially, coupled with Delta Air Lines' decision to pull out virtually all its service, D/FW Airport must increase rather than decrease service.
• The answer to concerns about the high cost of flying from D/FW Airport is not to have more Southwest flights out of Love Field. Spreading commercial air passengers over several airports drives up airfares because D/FW Airport's operating costs cannot be reduced by an amount that is correspondent to the drop in passenger volume.
• Southwest can and should come to D/FW if it wants to expand.
The $2.7 billion in D/FW improvements has increased debt sixfold. Airports around the world are modernizing. The new runways, the international terminal, the airport passenger rail service and the other enhancements will assure D/FW's position as a premier airport.
Airlines are fighting for their lives, including those at D/FW Airport.
If you have any doubt that commercial aviation business is in a fragile state, go back and read the the headline in Wednesday's paper: "American tosses pillows off MD-80s." It is "the latest in a host of small moves that American [Airlines] hopes will add up to big cost savings," the Star-Telegram reported.
D/FW Airport's operating costs have been reduced over the last three years to the lowest level possible without harming the quality of the facility. Any siphoning of service to Love Field means airlines will still pay the same fixed airport costs while their revenue decreases because of the lost passengers. This is not good for the airlines or D/FW.
With Delta leaving, Southwest truly has an opportunity to come to D/FW Airport. Airport management has actively recruited Southwest.
If it offered service from D/FW, Southwest would also eliminate the chilling effect it is having on other low-fare airlines coming to D/FW Airport because of Southwest's advantage at Love Field. Southwest has declined the invitation.
In simple terms, the state of commercial passenger aviation in North Texas is in the most precarious situation since D/FW Airport opened in 1974, for reasons that are easy to understand: the aftermath of 9-11 and the heightened airport security around the world, rising fuel costs that are eliminating any positive effects of airline cost-cutting moves, and the need for D/FW to maintain a competitive advantage with state-of-the art facilities.
These circumstances just don't allow for major changes in how commercial passenger service is provided to North Texas. D/FW must remain the primary commercial passenger service airport of North Texas.
A return to the pre-1960s era of more than one North Texas airport offering unrestricted commercial passenger service would evolve into the same mess that led to creation of a single commercial aviation airport for the region -- D/FW Airport.
We cannot forget a simple fact of life. Fort Worth and Dallas have different positions on D/FW Airport. Fort Worth and Dallas own D/FW. Dallas owns all of Love Field. Fort Worth realizes nothing from the expansion of Love Field. Dallas does.
Every aviation expert, and even Southwest Airlines, acknowledges that eliminating the Wright Amendment will result in Southwest changing its menu of service from Love Field.
The bottom line is that D/FW Airport would lose business and that North Texas citizens would lose the excellent commercial airline service they now enjoy at D/FW.
The plain and simple conclusion is: The Wright Amendment must remain in place for D/FW Airport to remain the economic engine of North Texas.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, Represents the 12th Congressional District and Is a Former Mayor of Fort Worth.